On 30th of May 2014 a little bit of history was made, seventy thousand people saw an automotive spectacle that may change the way we see and think about city centers.
At first glance it looked like just another great day out, hundreds of classic cars, bikes and even tractors filed the city center, but the live action events really caught the public attention with a short oval Stock Car circuit near the bus station and the ring road converted into a race track on the Sunday, that’s the bit I have the great honour of looking after. One memory that will stay with me for some time is driving the Jaguar XJR pace car at a good pace through the roundabout on junction 1 of the ring road with a genuine BTCC Rover SD1 looming large in my mirrors followed by a plethora of other superb racing machinery including thousand horse power Time Attack cars, British Cross Country Championship (BCCC) Bolwer Wildcat from Race 2 Recovery, even an LMP1!
However, this was no ordinary car show. This involved the people of Coventry, the people who built many of the cars on display, at some of the great companies that made Coventry their home; Jaguar, Humber, Standard, Triumph, Alvis, Siddeley to name just a few. There were memories and stories flowing out from all over the city. Quite deliberately the event was free to attend and be part of. Staffed by local volunteers the event is not for profit, instead it is part of a council endorsed initiative to promote the people of Coventry and the world class work they do. Motofest also runs community projects such as getting local school children to design a car that will be built in Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations, you will see this car running at next year’s show on the ring road circuit.
We are also working on an idea to deliver automotive training to the people in need of a helping hand. We also have projects to showcase the vast talent of engineering companies in the area, did you know that every F1 car has something made or treated in Coventry? There is a lot going on that deserves wider recognition, and Motofest will be part of the crowd shouting it out. Celebrating the glorious past is just one element, we also promote the present automotive industry, helping with recruitment and creating links. But just as importantly we look to the future, showing concept cars and joining with Coventry University’s design graduate show. A vital part of what we do is inspiring youngsters to join this fantastic industry, from designers to technicians, from factory workers to senior managers. Motofest inspires and is part of the community, it’s celebrating the past and building a future. The legacy of Motofest will be in the lives of the citizens who join in and, in a small way, the future we help to build. Next year will be bigger and better, with competitive motorsport on the city streets, we are the first city to announce street racing following the commitment by the government to change the legislation governing this activity.
We’ve had a long think about how to use the city streets for racing and for next year we are going to start gently with sprint racing, but I will have other race car demonstrations too including Group B rally cars running two at a time through the chicanes, classic LeMans cars, Super Bikes, Formula Ford and many more. We are in the council diary for the next five years and we’re going to grow this into one of the worlds top events. The council have been astonishingly receptive to these plans and we may yet see a Monaco style tunnel and a LeMans style bridge appear as permanent parts of the city.
I’ll be giving you updates as we move forward and hopefully some of you will get involved. Motofest is a charity, we are not part of the counsel and we are not on their pay roll, we are fully independent and anyone can join in. Motofest is all about community involvement so please help spread the word.
The roar of engines and the flash of speed stirs the soul in a way that few other sports can. There is something almost animal about racing machines, they breathe, they roar, they dance and fight. Maybe that’s why we do it, cars, bikes, trucks, everything with an engine has been raced by someone somewhere. It’s in our nature, in our blood.
Race tracks and rally courses are special places, with an almost magical feeling. They are places where the human need to prove ourselves, to compete is matched by our ingenuity and creativity in engineering. We create machines and we train ourselves, then we test both in these gladiatorial arenas.
But taking racing out of the arena and into our own town creates a contrast that can be even more special, like seeing superman in the local pub, seeing a single seater race car or a superbike absolutely on the limit of human and machine ability on a road that you use to go to the shops is astonishing.
Street racing is a well proven formula, there is Formula 1 in Monaco and super bikes in the Isle of Man TT, and that’s the sort of spectacle that many of us want to help bring to our fine cities of Britain. But it’s not that simple, the law is a cumbersome and unhelpful tool, not deliberately so it’s just the way it’s ended up, the sprawling limbs of the Road Traffic Act accidentally interfere with any attempt to bring such wonderful sport to the people. There is insurance, road closure orders, traffic management plans with complex diversions, logistics, infrastructure and other posh words to sort out. You need at least a year to get everything in place, even longer if you need sponsors. That’s quite a challenge.
But as a species we rather like a challenge don’t we?
So, in the spirit of human endeavour Coventry Moto Fest is attempting to do this, turning Coventry city into a sort of Edinburgh festival for cars, bikes and even classic buses. There is a live stage with music and impassioned debate about classic cars, there are classic car and bike displays all through the city centre, there are motoring related films on at two cinemas, there are concept cars and future technology on display, there is even a Moto Fest beer on sale; Moto Fest Multigrade! But the real difference to any other car show is the live action, there is a short oval race track springing up in the city’s larges car par with F1 Stock Cars, stunt bike and precision driving displays. But the biggest part of the show is that the ring road is being turned into a race track for the day, with rally cars, drag racers, drifters an circuit racers demonstrating their ability.
So imagine how thrilled I was to be asked to be in charge of the live action element, obviously quite a responsibility but an enormous opportunity too. Now, things aren’t quite the way I’d want, not enough time to get races booked into the motorsport calendar and the such like. Plus we need to prove ourselves to the council and the people of the city before they let us take over completely. So this is what we are doing; this year I will put on a safe and steady display of fantastic racing machinery. There will be no racing, speeds will be limited by use of a pace car, no chicanes or rumble strips. But if we get enough people telling the council that this event was good then there is a chance we can host real racing next year. That’s my goal, the big prize, bringing real racing to the streets.
So if you want to see real motorsport in the city streets then please help by joining the call to our friends at the council to let us make it even better next year. Oh, and please enjoy this year’s event too, it’s going to be great.
Exhilaration seeps from the track, the sounds, the smells and the spectacle all conspire to grab you by the heart. The fact is that you would have to go a long way to beat the sheer enjoyment of driving at full chat round one of our many splendid race circuits, so it is probably quite high up on your list of things to do. Track day veterans will tell you there are a few secrets to success, some of which might sound surprising if you are new the scene.
The great thing about track days is that they are not a race. In fact racing is strictly prohibited, the idea is that everyone can go as fast as they feel happy with and enjoy the day. Corners are where the fun happens, you are entitled to handle the corner in any way you can without being hassled by faster cars. So overtaking is only allowed on the straights, it is quite common for faster cars to hold back on the straight to give themselves some space in front so they can then take the corner flat out without risk of encountering a sower car.
Many people worry that they are in some way ‘not good enough’ or that their car isn’t ‘fast enough’, this is normal and nothing to worry about. Because there is no minimum speed, no racing, nothing to compete against except your own fear, you could turn up in a bog standard diesel family hatchback and still have a great day.
The big day.
As the nerves build before your first track day you might find that you get bombarded with conflicting advice, so just to add to the confusion here is some more:
1.You will need to feel comfortable, so wear comfy clothes. Shoes are very important pieces of equipment, ideally they should have soft soles so you can feel the pedals, but the most important thing is that they must be tight enough to give you accurate control but not so tight that they hurt after an hour or so. Thick soles such as trainers should be avoided.
2. You do NOT need a stop watch, you will not be taking lap times, this is not a competition and racing against the clock leads to accidents and a level of self imposed stress that can ruin a fun day.
3. If you are using your own car then service it before hand, belts (including cam belt where fitted), oil, coolant, gearbox and diff oil As well as brake fluid should all be fresh and at the right level. Depending on the car it may be best to run the oil level towards the low mark on the dip stick to prevent oil pull over, or towards the top end if the engine is prone to surge
where the oil in the sump sloshes away from the pick up pipe. Again check for advice on your particular model. Either way check the oil level after each run, consumption will be higher than for normal road use, take spare oil.
4.Keep an eye on the temp gauge and if it starts creeping up then ease off and investigate the cause in the pits. But only look at the gauges when safe to do so on the straights. Don’t look at the speedo, it wont help. Do look at the rev counter and avoid the red line, preserve the engine.
5.It is vital to do a cool down lap before coming in (High gear, low speed and don’t touch the brakes) to loose the stored heat in the engine, exhaust and brakes. Never put the hand brake on, once the brakes are hot it warps the disc and can bond on quite resolutely.
6.After a run has been completed open the bonnet and let the heat out, all the metalwork will be hot and will soak into fuel lines and electrics whilst parked up. Whilst there check everything is still attached and not leaking.
7.Keep checking your tyre pressures, you will be pushing your tyres harder than you ever could on the road so the right pressure is vital.
8.Don’t take loads of spare parts, what ever spares you take you wont need, what ever spares you need you wont have. Best not worry about it. But do take fluids.
9.Take drink, a hat and sun glasses, tracks are strangely drying places, keep hydrated otherwise your concentration will fade faster than your brakes.
10.The first few laps will be a bit bewildering, most people feel lost. This is normal and nothing to worry about. Your first few laps should be used to get familiar with the layout of the circuit. Just take it easy and build your speed gradually, you have all day and after lunch you will be much faster.
11.Chat with the other participants, find someone with a bit more experience and get them to sit in. But bear in mind that anyone who says they are experienced is usually a deluded, the best guides are the quiet ones who don’t boast. Better still pay for some proper tuition.
12.After lunch pick someone who has a car that should in theory be as fast as yours, follow them and try to keep up, don’t worry if you can’t.
13.Keep a safe distance from other cars, particularly breaking for corners. Build a bit of space by hanging back on the straights so you can safely go flat out through the corners, where the fun is located.
14.When you spin off, stay calm. Stop for a few seconds and collect your thoughts. Follow the marshals directions, check all around for other traffic and indicate when you re join the track. Your tyres will be full of mud so don’t go too fast and stay off the racing line until they clear, it will sound like a hail storm as the grit is thrown into your wheel arches but don’t let this concern you.
15.Take pictures. Lots of pictures. Take friends who are good with cameras. Video is even better but you must get permission from the circuit and also from the event organizers first.
16.Enjoy yourself. Don t push too hard, there will be other track days and the chances are on the first outing you will find niggling faults on the car anyway, preserve the car and yourself. Remember this is not a race, it is not a test, it is not a test of your honour.
17. When packing up to go home take a few moments to make sure you have everything you came with. Check the car is safe for the road if you are driving it home, check the tyres for damage and make sure the tyre pressures are right. Check the fluids again and if you taped up your lights remember to take it off!
18. On the way home keep your speed down, nothing you learn on the track is appropriate for road use! You will have become accustomed to going very fast, your road speed may creep up on you without you realizing.
After your first track day you will probably be hooked, ideas for improvement to both yourself and the car will start pouring in and you will find it impossible to talk about anything else.
You’ll see signs about the track saying ‘motorsport is dangerous’, but what they don’t warn you about is that it is also highly addictive. If you start down this route the chances are your life will never be the same again. Go on, book a session right now!
PS: Why not hire a track ready car for your first time on a track? I’ve recently worked with Track Group Ltd who have some rather fun offers. Please have a look at their web site, and if you do decide to book a session with them be sure to mention my name.
I have had a lot of questions about setting up old Jags for race and track day action, so here are a few answers for those that feel the need to experience the glory of a V12 on track.
The same basic principals apply to both XJ-S and XJ6/12 cars. First up which car to go for.
The V12 in 5.3 form is fantastic on the race track with a 6500rpm rev limit and over 300bhp readily available, although the standard cooling system is dire. The first V12s had flat cylinder heads and can be tuned up to over 600bhp (at great expense), later models had the High Efficiency HE heads which limit power but drastically improve fuel ‘economy’ and is still good for well over 400bhp. Early cars had a 4 speed manual gearbox as an option but these are hideously expensive, most have the immensely tough GM TH400 auto box which can also make a good race box when fitted with American drag racing parts. I raced an auto with manual override and it was superb. The last XJS cars had the 6 litre V12 with a 4 speed 4L80E auto which can be modified to work in manual mode either mechanically or electrically (paddle shift style), but these cars are rather expensive.
The 6 cylinder engines in the XJ-S were either the AJ6 in 3.6 or 4.0 forms or the four valve AJ16 version of the 4.0. All are powerful with over 300 bhp quite feasible. Available with either the 5 speed manual or the 4 speed ZF auto, again the auto can be modified for racing but the manual is a simpler option.
TWR offered a manual version available through the official Jaguar dealer network, this used the Getrag 260 gearbox as found on larger BMWs of that era, but as the gearbox has an integral bellhousing you will need an adaptor plate to fit a non-v12 sourced box.
Basic track mods:
Brake pads, race brake fluid, jack the bonnet open an inch and fit good tyres. Give it a full service and off you go!
The more complicated version:
All cheap cars are rotten, so plan for welding. The front subframe which holds the engine up and holds the suspension on rusts from the middle out, good second hand ones are over £250 and quite a big job to change, so make sure you get a good one. The smaller cross member under the radiator also rots out but can easily be replaced with a strip of suitable metal and is not a deal breaker.
The front of the sills rots behind the ally splash guard but is reasonably simple to repair. The back of the sills is a very complex construction and includes the rear axle radius arm mount, this is a sod to rebuild but for racing it can be simpler to just cut the whole lot out and weld in a simple sill and convert the radius arms to a ‘cotton reel’ bushed rod that is mounted into a fabricated box intruding into the rear passenger foot well. This mod cuts out some weight too and also improves axle location.
When viewing a car pull up the rear seat base, rain water leaks in from the quarter light seals and pool in the seat base/ inner sill area. The race car solution to a rusty bottom is to cut out the set base and weld a simple plate over it. Also check the front foot wells where water from leaking screen seals can pool and rot the floor. Many cars have been undersealed which is unhelpful as the rot starts from the inside of the car and the underseal can hide it from inspection.
Mechanically the cars are strong, but bushes, bearings and ball joints wear. For racing I replace bushes with polyurethane and budget for new bearings and ball joints. Brakes get extremely hot so we use BNS grease in the wheel bearings which copes with the heat. The gearbox mounting is a cunning and complex unit which will be worn and make clonking noises when driving hard but can be replaced with a simpler rubber mount. The steering rack has very soft bushing so fitting pollybushes sharpens up the steering considerably, some cheapskate racers just limit movement on the bushes by simply putting tie wraps round the bush edges!
The cooling system on V12s is dire, I flushed the accumulate rubbish out then fitted coolant made of about 1% water wetter, 10% anti-freeze and 89% water which has better heat transfer ability. Then I removed the visco fan and associated heavy bracketry, the fan cowling and the original electric fan. I fitted a large electric fan instead as the fan is only needed in the pits. Jacking the bonnet open an inch lets the hot air out which is just as important as letting cold air in.
The brakes fade horribly on track, I used EBC Yellow Stuff race pads and Motul RBF600 brake fluid. The fluid is vital, it has a higher boiling point but has to be changed more regularly. To get a bit more cooling air round the rear inboard brakes I took the access plates out of the boot and removed the boot seal to let the hot air out, another approach is to cur the boot floor out completely which further improves cooling and makes access much easier to the rear axle as well as saving weight.
Weight loss is key, the sound deadening is everywhere and it is a good days work ripping it out. A tar based substance is glued onto the floor and has to be chiselled off. The interior heater system is very heavy and can be largely thrown away, although leaving the drivers side screen fan helps demisting. I used RainX anti-fog on all the glass to prevent misting, much lighter solution than a heater. The standard XJ-S seats only weigh 7kg so make a good cheapskate racers choice. Door lock solenoids can be junked to save 2kg, but the door cards weigh naff all so leave them in. I would also leave the electric mirrors on as they are less than 1kg each and work very well.
The centre exhaust silencer can be replaced with a straight through tube for a few more bhp and less weight. The standard intake airbox is a little restrictive and the trumpet can be cut off and a larger hole formed with a radiused edge, it is vital to get cold air to this and running ducting from the headlight surround works well. The middle headlights on quad light models can be removed to make an excellent cold air intake point, although some bodywork has to be cut out to get into the engine bay. The standard paper air filters work well when new, no need for expensive sponge filters.
The engine oil needs to be able to cope with high speeds and temperatures, I used Castrol RS which is now superseded by Castrol Edge. The other fluids have to be changed for quality higher performance versions too, including power steering, gearbox and differential.
All XJ-Ss had and LSD as standard, the 6 pot models had the lower 3.54:1 ratio needed for racing and is a straight swap to replace the overly high V12 item.
With the car lighter it will sit stupidly heigh on its springs. Eibarch make a suitable race springs but they are pricey. I cheated slightly by using the Jaguar ‘Sports Pack’ springs from a 3.6 model on my V12 which worked out just right. Adjustable front dampers are a handy mod and can be tweaked to suit different circuits – hard for flat ones like Silverstone and softer for less even ones such as Croft.
Fitting 50 profile tyres on standard wheels drops the gearing a tad more and lowers the car a bit too. Buffing the tread down to 4mm will stop them going off due to heat build up, this maintains grip levels and actually improves wear rate. I used Toyo Proxes T1R tyres as they were mandated by the race series, and they seemed to work well even in heavy summer rain.
You may wonder about roll cages, but if the car is ever used on the road I would avoid them because of the injury risk from hitting a steel bar next to your head in a collision. Cages work well when the driver is secured in a race seat with a race harness and wearing a crash helmet. The Jags are strong cars anyway so a heavy cage is of questionable benefit unless racing.
All that remains is to fit a race harness to hold you steady and a race steering wheel to speed up response and it’s time to head for the track to have more fun than is decent.
Check out these web sites which I have found very useful:
On the weekend of 22/23 May 2010 team Runningblade took the World Land Speed Record for lawnmowers. The magnificent machine was driven by Don Wales, grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, on the legendary Pendine sands reaching a speed of 87.833 mph and taking the record for the British team.
The original idea was the brain child of team chief Steven Vokins, who’s day job is playing with cars at Beaugleigh Motor Museum, and I was thrilled when he asked me to come on board as technical advisor.
Making a genuine lawnmower do that speed is no mean feat, the machine was built by seasoned mower racers at Countax in their spare time, a quite magnificent effort which not only goes damn fast but is also very stable at speed, looks good and even cuts grass!
In fact part of the regulations required us to cut some grass before the speed attempt, so the lawn outside the Pendine Museum of Speed benefited from a quick trim in front of the world’s media. Currently the museum houses Bluebird, Malcolm Campbell’s land speed record car from the ’20s, so it’s fair to say there is a lot of family history there.
Runningblade also raises funds for two heart charities, so please look at the web site and spread the word. The record breaking run was witnessed by the previous record holder Bob Cleveland who has vowed to take the record back to the USA next year, but he also raised over 1000 dollars back home for our charities, now that is a damn good sport.
Designing a land speed record machine is a skill hard leaned by the pioneers of speed, luckily for us we can draw on their incredible tales to reduce the amount of pain we have to endure. The same rules apply no matter what sort of machine is being designed; stability at speed is essential for safety and to allow the pilot to apply full power, secondly you need to balance power and drag so you can reach the target speed in the distance available.
Most speed machines gain stability by using a very long wheel base, in fact it’s the ratio of the track width to the wheel base length that influences the twitchiness of the car, or yaw stability if you prefer the technical term. But making a car to narrow makes it easier to roll, so we start by setting the track width then altering the wheelbase to suit.
The width is a big problem though, for speed we need to make the frontal area as small as possible so it pushes a small hole in the air. Air is heavy stuff, each cubic meter (about the amount of air under a coffee table) weighs about 1.1 kg, driving at 100 mph means that the average car (2 square meters of frontal area) is pushing 110kg of air out of the way every single second!
The ease or difficulty with which it manages to move the air is down to the shape of the car, sleek slippery shapes carve through the air but brick shapes shovel the air in front of them in a massive pile of pressure slowing the car horribly.
And here is the first problem; lawnmowers are traditionally shaped like tractors with a brick shaped bonnet. Luckily Countax make a fairly well streamlined bonnet which became the starting point for the whole vehicle. We also leaned the driver back as far as possible, unlike race cars the view forwards is surprisingly unimportant, usually they are looking a long way in front and so they can be sunk deep into the vehicle with their eyes at bonnet height.
In fact getting everything as low as possible is vital, a low centre of gravity helps stability and crucially reduces the effect of side winds. One of the great problems with a land speed machine is that the aerodynamics are set for minimal drag which means minimal down force, so at very high speed even a slight side wind can blow the car badly off course.
This means that land speed record cars run with a fairly high weight to hold them down at speed, the complete opposite of nearly every other form of motorsport. It’s not that we add weight, more that we don’t try to minimise it, making the structure very strong and the such like. Where the weight sits is very important though, we try to put the majority of the weight over the front axle so the steering wheels have grip, the worst case is the front going light at speed because then the car can spin and roll or on faster machines could flip over backwards. Loosing grip at the back makes the car twitchy and with rear wheel drive obviously acceleration is lost but generally the car stays on course. Going back to the problem of side winds, as the wind blows on the side of the vehicle the most force is applied in the biggest side area, on a mower this would normally be somewhere at the back of the engine area, the point where the car is pushed is the centre of pressure. setting the centre of gravity in front of the centre of pressure means the car is more stable, that’s one of the reasons why proper land speed record cars have a big tail fin.
With all these factors in mind one of the first things we did was to lay all the main components on the floor and get Don to sit on the seat so we could get everything in the right place. Apart from being a useful exercise it is also very funny, and yes we did force him to hold the steering wheel and make brum brum noises.
So now we had the height, width and length sorted out it was time to resolve the details, the most important one being the tyres. Again we have a dilemma, bigger diameter makes a smoother and more stable ride, a wider tyre reduces ground pressure on the soft sand which reduces rolling drag. But the greater the tyre frontal area the greater the aero drag. The decision was constrained by the fact there are no standard lawn mower tyres rated for 100mph, so we had to use ordinary car tyres. Tread pattern is critical on sand, to minimise power lost in breaking up the beach surface we needed the least aggressive tread pattern possible, we even considered slicks at one point, which may seem surprising. But remember we are not doing any cornering, just a straight line, and too much lateral grip could be a problem if it makes the steering too twitchy, if the vehicle does spin it is desirable for it to slide rather than dig in when going sideways to avoid rolling.
Indeed, to stop the steering being too twitchy the rack ratio is reduced making it a lot slower to turn and increasing the turning circle many times.
With all these factors set, we needed to sort out the shape, the aerodynamics and crucially the drag dictates the power required from the engine. At this point well funded teams would model the vehicle on a computer and hone the bodywork in a virtual wind tunnel. We weren’t well funded so we had to do it the old fashioned way, we built a prototype and drove it down and airfield to see how fast it went. Using a data logger lent to us by Racelogic we could see how fast the vehicle accelerated and get accurate top speed readings. As we knew the weight of the vehicle and the engine power curve it was fairly straight forward to work out the drag coefficient.
My good friends at Dunsfold Park, home of the Top Gear test track, very kindly let us use the runway for a day. It’s amazing how much work is required before a vehicle can actually drive onto the track, after arriving and unloading the van the initial checks are made and fuel added, I mounted the datalogger and set up the GPS speed reading. Don suited up and the engine was warmed up, that fairly large single cylinder mower engine sounded quite meaty with a race exhaust. A couple of low speed runs warm up the transmission and then it comes back in to check nothing is leaking before the propper test run.
The prototype peaked at just over 60mph with a 27bhp engine, which may not sound impressive but it gave us the drag info needed to design the real deal. The prototype had another job to do too; every world land speed record team struggles to find the cash to go on and a vital part of the teams work is generating publicity and generating support, in fact if you saw Runningblade at the launch party at Beaugleigh you saw the prototype, the final version was still being built at that time.
One key ingredient is power, in fact more than any other form of motorsport power is critical, and wee needed more. To cover the measured mile at the target speed the vehicle needs more power than you might think, first of all it needs enough power to maintain top speed as it overcomes drag and mechanical losses, but it also needs extra power to accelerate the vehicle comfortably in the run up zone. Not only this but the engine will be running flat out for a long time, so it needs to be able to generate this power reliably but also maintain it as everything runs at maximum speed and temperature, so a degree of safety margin is required and it is common to use an engine with at least 10% more power available than you need.
The problem on this project was the need to use a real lawnmower engine, these usually have the cylinder flat and the crank vertical to drive the front belt pulley. There are not many high power versions about. The 27bhp engine in the prototype was one of the biggest available, but this only gave us half our hoped for top speed, the trouble is the force due to air drag on the front goes up with the square of speed, and worse the power needed goes up with the cube of speed. So to double the top speed we need eight times as much power!
To meet the challenge we needed to drastically reduce the drag as well as increase the engine power. Kawasaki had just launched a new big mower engine and being fabulously helpful lent us one of the first in the country. This mighty 1000cc V twin engine produced well over 40bhp as standard and with a few tweaks we eventually got about double the power of the prototype.
To get the drag down the final version of Runningblade was slightly lower and narrower, the seat canted back a touch and the wheelbase extended to cope.
By now all funds and time had been exhausted, we had booked Pendine sands and the worlds media were pouring in, it was now time to prove we could do it even though we had no time for any final testing.
Pendine is a fantastically evocative place, there has been so much triumph and tragedy here and Don’s family ties are so great that the land speed museum there houses many of his ancestor’s artefacts. Tides dictate the days timing, as the water goes out it takes time for the moisture in the sand to ebb away, if you drive on it too soon it is too wet and the car will bog down, leave it too late in it is dust and the car digs in, there is a fairly brief window of opportunity of about an hour where the sand is firm and speeds are highest. As soon as the tide has gone the first job is to clear away all the debris by hand to prevent ‘foreign object damage’ or FOD, clearing the drift wood, shells and rubbish is known as fodding and a sterling band of volunteers form the local scouts assisted in this back breaking work. At the same time the course is laid out with the start and finish ‘gates’ being marked out and the electronic timing gear set up and tested. A FIA sanctioned timing official was hired for the day so we could give Guinness World Records verifiable data. Much of the setting up and moving kit about on the beach was done by the local Discovery Owners Club who’s help was vital, they also posted cars at set points on the course to act as emergency aid just in case.
Whilst all this was going on the mower was equipped with it’s cutting deck and a witnessed mow of the museum lawn took place in front of the officials and media, plus a fairly large gathering crowd. No pressure then.
Then the call came through that the course was ready and the tide time was spot on for the first run, so the cutting deck was removed for safety and we headed for the golden beach.
Initially we ran with a roll cage and harness as we had no idea how stable the mower would be at higher speeds, Don set off for the first timed run, the V twin sounded awesome with no silencing, a bit like a Harley. It soon got up to 80mph and was humming along brilliantly, but then disaster struck and the speed dropped dramatically. We all dived into support trucks and rushed to the scene, the Countax guys flipped the machine onto its tail stand and immediately we could see the drive belt has fragmented. The prolonged run at full power had made it so hot it just disintegrated. Adjustment were made to pulleys to minimise slip and flex and a new belt fitted.
The return run went without a hitch, Don got out and reported it felt incredibly stable at speed and the beach was at its best, so we decided to remove the roll cage to reduce drag.
The second run was faster, but still not near the target so more tweaks were tried, gradually run by run the speed crept up a tiny amount at a time. There was a gentle breeze up the beach and with a tail wind the machine broke 90mph, but the return run into the wind dropped the average to 86.7mph.
And that was enough to snatch the World Land Speed Record for lawnmowers, the mower had given everything it had to give and it was time to celebrate.
Speed records are strangely addictive, once you have had one you need another, it doesn’t matter how fast you go you want to go faster. Speed is a drug, and the competition at every level is fierce, there is a category for almost everything, even road legal furniture, you name it some one has driven it faster than you would think possible.
Just being part of a team is a real privilege and a thrill, if you love speed machines then why not get involved, I joined the Bloodhound SSC club who have loads of thing for members to join in with and it’s a real buzz. Go on, get involved!
The Dakar rally is themost spectacular and gruelling race in the world, ever. Some serious machinery has pounded the dunes over the years including Porsches and Mitsubishi specials. The cars are amazing, designed for the harshest environments, to ford rivers, scramble over rocks, wade through mud, jump metres in the air and race at high speed on the dunes, flat out for days on end.
Remarkably one of the most successful car manufacturers is based in a sleepy village in Derbyshire, I am of course talking about the fantastic Bowler Off Road team who design and manufacture the Nemesis, based very loosely on the Range Rover Sport, but with added warp drive.
Today I find myself let loose with the beast amidst sand and rocks, with the sun shining and a beautiful big blue sky, I could be somewhere exotic like the dunes of Morocco or Arabia, but actually I am in a disused quarry somewhere near Corby.
Standing next to the car I am immediately aware of its racing pedigree, it exudes ‘fast’
like a saddled race horse. This particular example has completed a number of events this year already and the TwinTex composite is scuffed where gravel and rocks have assaulted it withhours of high speed torture. The door is so light that opening it is like turning the page of a Sunday newspaper, I have to step over the high side protection bar and then I manage to slide into the deep racing bucket seat with all the grace of a greased octopus falling down a drain, but once installed I feel very comfortable indeed, if rather snug ( I am over 6 foot tall so the fact I fit at all is a pleasant surprise), and everything I need falls easily to hand or foot. The switches are laid out in three touch pads with ally shield plates, looking like a cross between a cash machine and the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. The composite dash is styled to look similar to the Land Rover part, but it has an instrument binnacle with a large LCD display on both sides, the driver gets a big rev counter and a small digital speed readout plus a few other basics, the
co-pilot gets all the critical data to worry about leaving the driver to concentrate on winning the race.
Before the fun starts, the car shows its party trick of standing on one leg. The substantial sump guard doubles as a quick jack, two hydraulic rams drop it down and the car is raised clear off the ground, perfectly balanced for very rapid wheel changes.
Starting the 4.4 litre Jaguar V8 lets loose a savage bark from the race exhaust, which echoes round the old quarry walls like some sort of primeval beast letting the world know who’s boss. The stiff race spec engine mounts transmit a tingling thrill of vibration through the car, heightening the sense of anticipation. And all this fun before I have even put it in gear!
Driving the Nemesis in its native environment is more fun than mere words can convey, it thrusts forward with indecent speed, throwing the horizon into my face and then battering me about the head with it, soaking up severe bumps and ruts as charges over the moon-like terrain in a near deafening crescendo of mechanical aggression. It takes an off camber jump with ease, firing the car seemingly straight up on a path to the stars before landing hard yet gracefully on one corner, the competition long travel suspension
compressing with optimal control and allowing the power to be put down as soon as the car is on the ground again.
Turning hard into a corner the front is set to understeer, the technique is to power out hard and then flick the back end out, steering on the accelerator pedal – this is a specialist tool for a very special job, not for the faint hearted.
As it tackles the scenery with overwhelming capability, the drive is optimised by the very trick differentials with visco limited slip plus switchable air locking which let the wheels dig deep into very tight bends as I stab the loud pedal to slingshot onto the straight. The suspension is amazing, supple yet always in full control allowing me to pick the exact line I want between the rocks.
The car’s immense capability is a testament to the team’s high standards of engineering, honed over decades of working in the harsh world of competition vehicles. Indeed it’s been noticed by some of the world’s big movers and shakers, and a military version is on the cards with a machine-gun mount on top.
But my battle is over, finally I park up and ponder what a superb, pure bred, race machine this is. Then it occurs to me that Land Rovers great selling point is its every day practicality, and as this car shares about 40% of its DNA with a Range Rover Sport, I start to wonder how usable it is as an every day car. I bet no one else thinks like me.
So, I convince the chaps from Bowler that I need to take it on a run to the shops; I suspect this is a first for them. So we head out of the quarry onto some nice twisty B roads then into Corby town centre. On the road the car still feels absolutely wonderful, but in a different way, the Kumho race tyres are designed for grabbing lumps of the planet and throwing them rearwards and tarmac is not their preferred terrain, but they cope surprisingly well. In fact the car handles much like a sports car, the 60/40 torque split gives it a rear wheel drive like feel when powering out of roundabouts. There is less roll than I was expecting too, probably to do with the fairly low centre of gravity and the anti-roll bars helping the massive double wishbones. On mini roundabouts I can really feel the clever diffs working and on full steering lock the car shudders ever so slightly, though it might be just shuddering at the horror of driving slowly up a high street rather than enjoying itself racing at full tilt through the dunes. The only tricky bits are the brakes, which are very powerful and at low speeds leading to some accidental emergency stops, and the racing clutch which combined with the lightweight flywheel make it very easy to stall when trying to pull away gently in the queue to get into the Asda car park. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.
It turns out that driving a full-on Dakar race car into a local supermarket gets quite a lot of attention, I am not sure if it was the mud, the bright race paintwork or the exhaust sounding like the outbreak of war, but I have my suspicions.
Parking up is straightforward enough, although reversing is made a little tricky by the total absence of rear visibility, I have just the two door mirrors to work with, which are covered in mud.
People are looking at me as I open the door, twist the release buckle on the race harness and grapple my way out of the car. Now the next problem hits me; it’s a race car so it has no door locks, in fact it has no keys at all. But after a moment’s thought I realise that the alien world inside the cabin would stop any casual thief. That and the fact that the chaps from Bowler have parked up next to it, so I nip into the shops to get a few essentials.
On my return to the car I ponder where to put my bags. There is a parcel shelf, which normally houses the crew’s crash helmets and other race kit. The doors are hollow and normally used for storing documents, maps, drinks and nibbles that are essential on desert rally stages which can last for hours. But for getting the whole weekly shop in the car I turn to the rear storage lockers, their normal contents include sand ladders, emergency tools and rescue equipment.
So all in all it still manages a remarkable degree of practicality, its lots of fun to drive and is awesomely capable. Could it be the ultimate sports car? All it would need to be a perfect road car is an easier clutch and brakes, maybe an easier way of getting in and out, and probably some door locks would be a wise investment.
Which nicely brings me to the good news that Mr Bowler has decided to make a road car version, the EXR, with more refinement and comfy seats, an auto box option, air conditioning and something called ‘infotainment’, but as I hold a race licence I have no idea what that means. The result, currently at prototype stage, looks very tempting indeed and will give the sport minded Sheik most of the stunning ability of the race car in an accessible, easy to use package, ideal for weekend dune bashing or cruising the south of France.
I for one am really, really looking forward to that one.
The heart of the beast is the Jaguar V8 in 4.4 NA or the 450 bhp 4.2 supercharged form, Jag diesels are also an option and gaining popularity, and now the fantastic Jaguar 5.0 V8 engines are available with over 500bhp on tap. Gearboxes are 6 speeders, either the synchro H gate or sequential. The differential options are open, LSD or the top class Ricardo visco LSD with air locking too.
The space frame is immensely strong and can withstand the huge forces of racing and the unfortunately inevitable crashes, the overall stiffness is far greater than road cars and is essential for good suspension control.
Bodywork is made from a mixture of alloy plating and the composite ‘Twintex’ which is more durable than carbon fibre; the whole thing is very light but the car in competition is ballasted up to meet the minimum weight regulations.
Up to three FIA compliant safety fuel tanks allow a maximum of 406 litres, needed for the extremely long desert rally stages.
The Eibach duel rate springs are tuned precisely for this car, and the massive race dampers use remote oil reservoirs to cope with the heat generated in severe use. The double wishbones all round allow up to 300mm of travel.
The brakes have 360mm front discs with Brembo callipers and 350mm rear discs with Land Rover callipers, a brake bias valve allows the front/rear bias to be adjusted to suit the race conditions.
A range of wheels and tyres are available but this car has Kumho 275/65-18 race tyres on Compomotive 18” race alloys.
Motorsport at any level is hugely enthralling, but the costs are prohibitive for the vast majority of enthusiasts. There are, however, a few ways round this and it is possible to do a day’s competition for less than the cost of a full tank of fuel.
The fastest cars in drag racing accelerate from 0 to 100mph in 0.8 of a second, and exceed 330mph in ¼ of a mile, but they will spend 500 quid on fuel for each run, followed by replacing most of the 50 grand engine. By comparison The Slow Car Club take bangers usually costing less than 500 quid up the track at Santa Pod on Run What Ya Brung days, entry costs 35 quid for a whole day of driving flat out. It doesn’t matter how fast the car is because after the first few runs you start trying to beat your own personal best time, it is highly addictive and lots of fun.
If you have ever fancied rally driving but haven’t got a rally car and baulk at the £300 entry fee for even the smallest of events then drop down a few gears and look at Production Car Trials. As the name suggests the cars are standard and there are classes for different engine sizes and engine/drive configurations, 4x4s are banned. The set up is simple; take a muddy hill with a few obstacles, mark out a challenging twisty course and see how far you can drive a car up the track before getting stuck. About the only modification you can make to the car is dropping the tyre pressures. The tracks are divided into 10 sections and you get penalty points depending on how badly you do, if you manage to get all the way up then you have no penalties and its a clear run. The skill required is remarkable and it is easy to get utterly immersed in the task of coaxing your banger that extra few inches up the track, it’s just as addictive as high speed track racing and highly recommended.
Another variant on the rally theme is the 12 Car Event, this is a navigational event run on public roads so speeds are modest. A route is issued to the drivers at the start line and timekeepers are stationed at the end of each section, the skill is in the teamwork between the navigator and driver to ensure the best route is taken and speed optimised to make sure the car arrives at precisely the right time. It’s very competitive and requires self control as much as car control, going to fast is as bad as too slow.
You have probably seen some footage of cars being expertly drifted round a very tight course laid out with cones in a car park. This is Autotesting and is a measure of drivers skill against the clock whilst negotiating hairpin bends, reverse parking and tight slaloms. You’ll need good tyres to get the best out of the car but for road car classes that’s about the only thing you can change. Precision and pace are needed in bucket loads, you think you can handle a car – this will make you think again!
But if driving flat out round corners is high on your needs list then consider Hill Climb or Sprints, this is usually on race tracks and does require a race licence so the costs start mounting but it does mean you can drive at high speeds on real circuits. The idea is simple – to get fro the start line to the finish line as fast as possible and its wonderful to watch as there is often old F1 machinery operating in the upper classes. If you wonder what the difference is a Hill climb is up hill and a sprint is on the flat, more or less.
In fact there is a surprising wealth of cheap motorsport opportunities in this country, if you are handy with the spanners then there is Grass Track (sprint races in a field), Comp Safari (rallying for grown ups), economy runs (more fun than you might think) and even real circuit racing can be done on a budget of less than £3000.
Currently I am liking the idea of buying a bargain banger for less than £500 and seeing just how many events it can do in a year. Probably something old, maybe another Jag, or a 2CV, or a Maestro, the more un-motorsport the better, maybe a diesel. Anyone fancy joining in?