Jumping through hoops

The HSA season closer at Curborough is a great event, even though it was slightly blighted for me by a sticking throttle cable last year.   After the success of my last trip to Curborough (first trophy – did I mention that?) I wasn’t actually expecting great things, especially given the size and quality of the Formula Ford entry.

At the risk of looking like I’ve been thumbing through the racing driver’s book of excuses, I wasn’t feeling great.  So I was really happy to be half way up the class after the first two runs.  The first timed run was faster than the two practice runs, but most people seemed to have gone faster than me.  I’d fallen through the field somewhat.

I managed to psych myself up a bit for the last run, and it did seem a lot quicker.  Well it did until Flagpole at the end of the first lap. I overcooked the entry speed and then selected 4th instead of 2nd.  I headed out of the corner in 4th, and by the time I had realised what had happened the run was ruined.  I completed the second lap in 4th and my overall time was just over 70 seconds.  That, combined with the fact that my first split time was 6/10’s up on the first run, convinced me that I’d have been on for something a bit better than run 1. But it’s not like it was critical for the championship.  Clutch woes earlier in the year had seen to that.

One thing I should have done for this meeting is to have stiffened the front anti-roll bar.  The picture, by Andy Leivers, shows why.  The front suspension seems to have moved a lot in the corner, the nose is sticking up in the air, and I managed to slide the rear end at Flagpole. I guess I’ll be trying that stuff early next season.  And by then I’ll have done the corner weights and undertaken a dyno run. I’m going to do 2020 properly. 72388160_1348975145258395_1557035230890557440_n

But more annoying than messing up the last run was having the scrutineers taking an interest in my ROPS (roll hoop).   For 2 seasons nobody has picked up any problems and I’d even talked to the MSA about its legality during the rebuild.  Before I panic and get a new hoop fitted I’ll see if I can sit lower in the car, although taking the seat out will result in me sitting a bit close to the battery.  If it is the answer I’ll have to make a new, lower, seat.

So 2019 didn’t pan out how I wanted, but was pretty much as expected as soon as I had to tackle the the clutch. To prevent a re-run of 2019 in 2020 I need to make sure of the car’s legality as soon as possible.  Watch this space.

 

Vehicle Dynamics

There is no other way to begin this post.  I’ve finally won a trophy. In a motorsport event.  As you can tell I’m quite happy about that, and it’s made the BARC 2019 season closing event at Curborough quite special for me.  But that isn’t what this posting is about.  What it is about is the fact that at last I think I can tell what the car is doing.

I mentioned in the post about the Gurston meeting that I was beginning to have some ideas about adjustments.  This stems from the feeling that the rear end tends to break away before the front.  I’m not sure if the video shows this effect or my inability to drive properly.

Whether it is or it isn’t I’ve felt this at Gurston too – coming out of the Karousel the car seemed very tail happy.  Same on the way out of Ashes. Maybe even on the verge of spinning.  I’m going to stiffen the front ant-roll bar a bit, and see what that does. If it does anything I’ll have made a big breakthrough.

At Curborough something else that I noticed was very large drop-off in grip on the early runs.  P1 was probably the coldest run I’ve made in some time, especially at Curborough, and grip levels, I’d imagine as a result of this, were very low.  These levels improved during the day, but were never near what I’d experienced at Gurston or even some tests at Curborough in high summer.  I need to work on getting some grip back, possibly by lowering the tyre pressures.

So I’ve reached the point where I think I can start to make decisions about set-up.  Its nearly as gratifying as getting a trophy.  OK, nowhere near as good, but still gratifying.

 

What a difference a day makes.

A year ago I ran at Gurston and was frankly a little puzzled that I wasn’t faster, and what was more puzzling was that I couldn’t work out why, or what I could do to increase my pace.  I get that a lot.  But on Sunday it was quite literally all change. I took 1.54 seconds off my PB and know how I could go faster, though with the back end going light through Hollow it might be some time before I go quicker there.

The clutch issues are well documented in previous blogs. After the run at Bicester to check that the clutch worked I wanted a proper test to see what impact it had on how the car actually went.  A spare space on a test session the Thursday before the Bank Holiday Gurston seemed ideal.  For once the AIM datalogger was actually working and after the test some data could be coaxed out of it (this was because temporarily the device firmware and PC data download software actually worked together.  It didn’t last.)  Sprint and Hillclimb times from the device are almost useless, but speed data does provide some useful info.  And the top speed down the straight was up 4MPH on the last visit.  Promising.  Working out what was happening with the engine RPM was somewhat less straightforwards. I need to work on that.

curb_data_22nd_aug_2019

My first practice run on the Saturday at Gurston was just over 41 seconds, pretty typical for me, but encouraging as a first run.  The next run was a PB by 0.63 of a second, but as we all know they don’t count in practice.  It was also tantalisingly close to my personal target of 39.something at 40.05.  The final run of the day was 40.32, which I would have thought fast last year.

gurston august 2019_3

Sunday’s practice run was a decentish 40.7, leaving me with something to prove in timed run 1.  After a bit of socialising with the great and the good of my hillclimbing and sprinting world it was time to run.  I got a decent clean start (clutch still working then) and took a reasonable amount of speed through Hollow and into Karousel.  I still wasn’t fast enough through Deer’s Leep and was OK through Ashes, but that was because I’d been paying attention there on previous runs.  Getting a decent run from Ashes to the top of the hill isn’t as straightforwards as it sounds, but I made a decent stab at it.  I was out of breath at the top, so had obviously been trying quite hard.  At some events you get to see your time after you cross the line, but at Gurston you have to get a ticket from the timing hut.  As getting in and out of the RF84 is a bit of a headache I stayed in the car and headed back down the hill not knowing my time.  A state of affairs which continued, although Jo White told me I’d done my 39 when I saw him near the start line.  Eventually I ended up in the start line office and was given my time directly from the system. 39.14.  Not just a sub 40.00 but over 1.5 seconds under my PB.  To say I was pleased was a bit of an understatement.  A little while later the printer produced written proof.

39s

I said that I was so happy that I’d be waving to the Marshalls on the way up the hill on my last run, not just the way down.  As so often with my final runs I might as well have waved at everyone whilst progressing sedately up the hill.  But frankly I didn’t care.

gurston august 2019_2

The big point about my performance wasn’t just going sub 40.00, and not that far off a 38 (which would have been respectable as Sam Lester’s fastest run was 37.95), but the fact that I can see where I can go faster.  (Looking at the time sheet you can see my finish line speed is 4 mph down on my fastest run for example.) And for the first time I’ve even got some ideas on car set-up.  Mind you I’ll need them.  It looks like Trevor Willis has signed up to drive in Formula Ford at the HSA season closer at Curborough.

gurston august 2019_1

Clutching at straws and beyond

The clutch issues that dogged the final runs at the Gurston practice day didn’t get any better.  And I didn’t want to blog about them until I’d sorted them.  I didn’t envisage it taking this long.

The first thing I did was to flush the clutch hydraulic system to remove all traces of air.  It seemed a bit better, but not radically so.  I entered the May Curborough event, with the idea of seeing if things were better.  Spinning off on the first corner of the first run wasn’t exactly on the planning sheet, and finding the battery didn’t want to restart the engine wasn’t (as an aside I seem to need to replace the battery every season, which is odd.) I managed to put in some semi decent times in the end, but it was evident that the clutch still wasn’t good.  At that point I made the decision to investigate things properly, and that meant removing the back of the car.

towed

I needed to make removing the gearbox and suspension a one man job, so I made a trolley, which with appropriate packing pieces, allowed me to simply undo a few bolts and slide the back of the car off.  It was nearly that easy.  When I got inside what I found was a bit surprising.  The bobbin which actuates the release fingers has a bearing pressed into its ID.  And that bearing had fallen out and was sitting on the input shaft behind the release fingers.  I wish I’d taken a picture of it. This and the resulting millimetres of clearance between the bobbin and shaft may have gone some way to make the clutch of the RF84 a somewhat unpredictable device.  It would also have explained something that happened the first time we ran the car in Bicester.

When I depressed the clutch pedal in those first runs there was an odd modulated grinding noise.  It caused a lot of confusion amongst some pretty experienced people, including one who had made lots of numerical models of clutches and release finger operation in the late 90’s.  I’d say that the bearing had parted company from the ID of the bobbin pretty much instantly.

The bearing and bobbin weren’t usuable, so I had to source a replacement.  And this provided another puzzle.  I measured the dimensions, as Mark Bailey told me that there were two sizes.  Od thing was that the bobbin in the car wasn’t either of the standard sizes.  So it was back on with the rear of the car to measure the freeplay.  Which indicated that I needed the longer of the two options.  So I ordered this and refitted it. The longer bobbin definitely made the freeplay more reasonable.

With the rear of the car reassembled I tested the car in the drive (not ideal but there were few other options.) The clutch felt instantly better.  In fact totally different.  As the car has only ever been driven by myself and my son its possible that the clutch had never been right, and perhaps we should have known that.

Finally I managed, this week, to drive the car round a track; I hired the circuit at Bicester Heritage for an hour.  Again the car felt very different, and when I returned to the pits after the first run, the track manager said “there’s not a lot wrong with that”. He had a point. In that run I’d have to say that the car felt really good, and if anything seemed to be running better.

I’ve got another test session booked at Curbourough next week and am running at Gurston over the bank holiday.  We’ll see if the improvement translates to times by then.

 

 

Here we go again..

After something of a bad off season its all go again.  I’ve taken the FF for a run at the Gurston test day and given the Radical a cautious shake down at Bicester.

Lets start with the FF and Gurston.  I love all of Gurston apart from Hollow.  So it was great to be back in what, for March, was astounding weather.  Gurston weather has generally been all about extremes.  My first event there in the Panda was very, very, cold, whilst at a later event the dashboard displayed 34 degrees.  And the less said about the biblical deluge at the round in August last year the better. Well, maybe not, as I think it was actually quite important in the story of the off at Curborough.

I wasn’t actually sure that the throttle had stuck partly open, though all the evidence pointed to it.  But when I removed the cable it was actually difficult to get the inner out.. It was pretty corroded and must have stuck.  Impressive after only one season.  I put it down to the regular drenchings during the 2018 season, especially at Gurston in August.

5edc0ffa-e99f-4d8f-9342-00014dc0f5cb_rw_1200
Photo by Steve Lister

It took me a couple of runs to get back in the groove, and then my times were just over a second off my PB.  Not too bad given the temperature (it was still reasonably cold) and lack of recent seat time..  By the end of the day the clutch was getting troublesome; I think it needs bleeding. A long break in proceedings whilst the orange army removed a Subaru whose rear diff had embedded itself into the tarmac, locking it and the car in position near the start, allowed me to pack away without causing anyone else any trouble.

gurston_march_2019_1

gurston_march_2019_3
More Steve Lister pics – the observant will notice a small amount of filler on on the nose cone. 

My AIM datalogger might seem like a bit of a toy, but after the Gurston test the data told me something really useful. In fact two things.  The first is that I’m short shifting.  By up to a 1000RPM. That has to be costing me time.  Its not just at Gurston, looking back at some traces from a Curborough test day last year, I’m doing the same.  The other thing is that I must have a long first gear – even at 5000RPM I’m up to over 50mph in first.  The job list is simple, clutch bleeding, check the throttle position and look at the gearing.  In fact do more than look at the gearing – become a student of the Mark 9 Hewland.

gurston august 2018_2curborough_test_data

So that was the Sunday..  Fast forward to the next Friday and it was the first outing in the Radical.  About which I was more than a little nervous.  People noticed.

Once we’d got the car off the trailer at the Bicester Heritage track, which was far from straightforwards, Matt Manderson pretty much ran the show.  Which for the record was really decent of him.  The pedal positions weren’t perfect, but I could use them OK, and the gear shift worked really well, just like a PDK it seemed.  The contrast with the FF was somewhat marked.  Even though I was just taking things slowly and going nowhere near the 10,000 RPM redline (spot a pattern here?) the car’s performance was astounding. This was the first time I’ve felt the airflow trying to lift my helmet. As the track was only booked for an hour I only took the car out twice; enough to convince me that it’s an amazing car, and enough to leave me somewhat worn out.  I can’t wait to take it out again.  But only after I’ve adjusted the seating position, done some analysis on how it’s loaded and unloaded, and worked on my fitness.

radical

 

 

 

 

Missing the Metro and others..

I used to have a Metro.  I don’t think there is any record of the fact; not a single photograph I can remember. I got to think about it because on twitter today somebody posted that there are only 10 standard Metro’s left.  Which is astounding. Not sure if my Red (obviously) City counted as a standard metro, but it was certainly pretty basic.

Somebody in my year at Oxford Poly used to claim that the Morris Minor was a better car than the Metro.  I don’t buy into that rose tinted stuff – by today’s standards the Metro isn’t a great car (arguably the same can be said using the standards of the day).  But what I do think about a lot is the total disappearance of whole designs, be they cars, boats or aeroplanes; good, bad or indifferent.  The Metro is unlikely to be totally lost any time soon (certainly all the time Keith Waters is campaigning his very neat example), but the erosion of the historical record is definitely underway. Many other designs are on the verge of being totally lost.

I’ll concentrate on two; one an aeroplane and the other a complete marque of Formula Ford.  The aeroplane is something that I wanted to build a model of a number of years ago.  A competition scale model requires a number of photographs to prove its accuracy. And that’s where the problems started – I could find 4.  Google Boulton Paul Bittern and 4 photographs come up.  Look further and search the relevant literature and you won’t find any more, although I did manage to buy a drawing from Ebay.  (In fairness I haven’t visited the BP archive).  So it looks like there is an aeroplane built in the 1920’s and the total remaining evidence is 4 photographs and a drawing of dubious provenance from an online auction site.  It has almost totally disappeared, as has all nearly all the associated knowledge.  Many other aircraft must have proceeded it into oblivion and many will certainly follow.  (A friend of mine rescued the Hawker photo archive from a skip, so the process is obvious.)  I’m not sure how much it matters, but it is certainly worth thinking about.  I never made the model.

Bittern

When I was in my early 20’s I had a poster of the late Pete Rogers driving a Formula Ford on my bedroom wall.  And the Formula Ford was a Laser, the first FF I wanted to own, though quite quickly the Quest joined that list.  Ironically I didn’t ever really want a Van-Diemen. Anyway..  laser2

I’m pretty sure I’ve got some pictures of Laser’s at Brands in the 80’s.  But beyond that there isn’t much sign of them.  The standard reference on FF history – Anatomy and Development of the Formula Ford Race Car – has a small section on Laser.

laser3

There were at least 5 cars.  The HD85, and the 4 HD87’s.  But where are they?  Searching the internet comes up with a few hits, one on a discussion forum over 8 years old and one from an older sprint report.  But the point is that sightings beyond 2007 are somewhat rare.  It wouldn’t take much for Laser to disappear from the record completely.

laser

Its not just Laser, Formula Fords and the odd aircraft.  Across the board cars, boats and aeroplanes must be disappearing from the record.  The question is “is it important?” And to be 100% honest I’m not sure.. But you do have to wonder where everything goes. There were well over 2000 Van-Diemen’s built. There must have been a similar number of Reynards. Every year for many, many, years a new grid of F3 cars was built. That’s, say, 20 cars every year for over 20 years. 400 F3 cars in the UK alone.  That’s a lot of cars and its safe to say that not many are evident. Obviously some have been wrecked, but what has happened to all the others?  It seems the forces destroying the historical record are quite strong. Or there are lots of full garages around. Which, possibly, amounts to much the same thing.

 

 

2018 Roundup

Last time I posted here was in the aftermath of the somewhat wet Gurston British Championship round – nil points.  The death of my father a little while after that pretty much interrupted most things, but life goes on.

I had one more outing in the Van-Diemen in 2018. Things started well at the HSA season closer at Curborough.  After practice I wasn’t at the sharp end, but wasn’t last either. So things were looking good. Coming up to the line I noticed that there was a distinct two phase nature to the throttle closing –  it had a sort of dwell at about 2500 rpm. (I’m sure you are ahead of me here!) I was really happy with my first run up until the last time round the Fradley Loop.  The car just seemed to carry on straight after I took my foot off the brake.  And then on into the ditch.  All I could think was “I hope I got the simulation of the crash structure right”, although the actual impact with the bank didn’t actually trouble it. It’s a bit dramatic to say the throttle stuck open, but it almost certainly had stuck at around 2500.  Discretion being the better part of valour and all that I gave up and went home.  Nil points again and a pretty hopeless position in the HSA championship.  And I’ve just noticed whilst posting the pictures that it was the first time out in my new Piers Dowell helmet livery.

The RF84 is now in the garage and I’ve made a list of the jobs that need doing before next season.  One of the jobs was obviously to check the throttle return.  When operated at the carb end it snaps shut, operate it from the pedal, and you’ve guessed it, there’s a big dwell at what must be 2500rpm.  The cable is coming out over the Christmas break.

I’ve also started the design work on my F750, and now even own an engine and gearbox.  I’ll post on that later, but here’s a picture to be going on with.

f750_hist_4

One of the things that has struck me recently is that 4 minutes in the seat every couple of weeks over the summer isn’t enough to learn to drive.  So what I needed was something to drive on track days, practice sessions and the odd hillclimb when not chasing HSA FF points. Even though I once threatened to walk out of a meeting there (another story for another time) Radicals have always appealed.  For reasons I won’t go into here, a nice looking SR1 up for sale on Race-cars direct became a distinct possibility, and to cut a long story short it’s now mine. 1400 Sports Libre at Gurston in 2019?? And you never know – I might get my ARDS in 2019  – but that’s what I said this time last year.

SR1

 

So 2018 was my first season running a proper racing car.  What have I learned?

  1. That it was as much fun as I thought it would be.
  2. That the FF people on the hills are a great bunch.
  3. That I need to do a lot of work on my driving.
  4. That I’ve got lots to learn about racing cars.

So that just about rounds off 2018.  Enormous thanks to Jo White; without whom literally none of this would have happened, and thanks to everyone who helped or came to watch. It was a blast.  See you all in 2019.

Washout in Wiltshire

After the Formula Ford Festival I was hoping to break 40’s at the August British Championship round at Gurston.  It didn’t happen, but not for any reasons I was in control of.

The track seemed slippery on the practice runs on Saturday; at the top of the Karousel I got it a bit sideways, and at Ashes opening the throttle seemed to drag the car towards the barrier in a way it didn’t a month earlier.  Everyone was slower.

This was the first run out at a meeting for my new Aim Solo2 datalogger.

gurston august 2018

Apart from graphically showing where I had a clutch issue on the second run – see below – there was a lot of interesting data to be had.  But obviously my new wiring hadn’t actually cleaned up the rev trace much.  I need to look at that.

clutch_drag

Possibly the most interesting plot shows where I lift for Hollow.  Actually not as much as I feared, but something I need to work on.

liftng

Another interesting point is that the maximum revs I was using registered at 5812.  But the engine red lines at 6400 I think.  So more to come there too; given that the RPM trace is quite dirty it might even be more of a problem that it seems at first.  The unit has gearchange lights but I hadn’t been looking at them.   I will at the Curborough HSA finale. And I need to do more work on the electrics.  I need a clean trace.

So I finished Saturday on 41s exactly; unusually I heard Jerry Sturman commenting on my time when I turned the engine off in the upper paddock.

The weather on Saturday wasn’t exactly a surprise, although quite how wet it was was probably not expected by many.  On my practice run I thought the transmission had failed at the start.  I opened the throttle and the car just didn’t move, at all.  Eventually physics and I caught up with each other, and I drove up the hill only to repeat things at the exit of Karousel and then Ashes.  Too much throttle this time.  I won’t mention the time and the wet seemed to have stopped the datalogger working!  Sitting in the car in the top paddock was decidedly unpleasant – I had to put my visor down to stop the water coming into my helmet.

wet_gurston5wet_gurston_2

I waited for something like 1/2hr in the car for my first timed run, most of it spent talking to Jo White.  And then we heard that the event had been abandoned.  Quite rightly as driving through a flood would have proved nothing.  And to risk damaging the car for that would have been pointless.

Putting everything away I literally could not have got wetter.  The car did get wetter on its open trailer driving through the flooded roads around Salisbury on the way home.  I’ll have to clean it this week.  And get my Curborough entries in.

Postscript:  Not enough revs?  Clutch dragging??  Just looked at the seat – wrong position – how incredibly annoying is that???

Start me up.. Starter woes then a great FF Festival at Gurston.

 

If you take part in any sport which involves machines you have to be ready for the days when said machine refuses to cooperate.  And the July Curborough was one of those days. (So far I’ve entered the 2 lap event twice and both have ended badly.)

This time it was hot, so I left starting the car until after scrutineering.  The engine turned over a good number of times, followed by a grinding noise, followed by a fruitless hour trying to free it.  Then home.

As I now had a free afternoon I watched the GP then removed the starter.  Which on examination didn’t look exactly fresh.  Why hadn’t I replaced it when I replaced most of the rest of the car?  Keith Metro Waters (guest blog spot any time you want it Keith) suggested a modern geared starter, which I didn’t give a huge amount of thought to at that point.

Starter options looked limited, and a discussion with my Dad, a starter motor designer for the Prince of Darkness in the 60’s and 70’s put me off buying another Lucas unit; largely because, apparently, the basic design was drawn in the 1930’s.  A bit of Google searching and Keith’s modern geared starter idea was looking like the obvious course of action.  Having been to Competition Supplies at Silverstone recently the WOSP unit they were offering seemed like a good choice.

starters

I fitted the unit on a day off, its cranking ability was truly impressive. The engine started very quickly.  Amazing what 80 years of development have achieved.  The only downside was that the side panel didn’t clear the new starter, but 20 minutes with the Dremel sorted that out.  I’ll probably re-profile the bulge over the winter.

The Formula Ford Hillclimb festival required a quick turnaround after a short family holiday in Spain, but Friday evening saw me unloading the car and putting up the tent. On my own I might add.  It turned out however that I could do my own seatbelts up using a trick I’d seen other competitors use.  Essentially you sort everything out with your HANS round your neck and your lid balanced on top of your head.  When everything is in place you push your helmet down and do it up.

FF Festival.png

There was a really healthy entry – 17 I think.  There was even another RF84, run by the Hawkes family.  Any worries I had about running the car on my own were soon put to rest; everyone was really helpful, especially Geoff Lancaster’s other half Maureen and Max Hawkes. Thanks to them and everyone else.

This was only my second outing on a hill with the RF84, and its a hill that I’ve never really felt comfortable on. After initially setting a target of getting to the top 8 times and beating my Panda time, I rejigged it to going under 40’s.  Which I just missed out on achieving.  Next time.  The festival was a great event, with a great crowd of competitors. A fantastic weekend.

drivers

And no I don’t know why I’m looking at the floor in the photograph.

The trouble with hillclimbs…

The list of factors which enhance driving performance doesn’t feature an overnight flight back from the US anywhere near the top.  But the HSA round at Prescott is one of my favourite events so jet lag wasn’t going to stop me doing it.

Doing most of the preparation before I went to the US made things easier than they could have been, and getting up early wasn’t any kind of problem. The HSA entry was very impressive and there were 4 of us driving Formula Fords: me, Charlie Reilly in his Van-Diemen, Simon Mcbeath in his Swift and class leader Carol Nichols in the Nike built by her father.

prescott_3

I’d been planning a crushable nose structure for some time, and although I was happy to run without it at Curborough, some of the run-off at Prescott is made of Armco.  Which meant more than a few weekends producing one.  (And given what the day job is, some effort was expended in modelling it’s crash resistance.) The structure fits inside the original RF84 nose cone, and every time I tried it at home it fitted perfectly. After scrutineering, not so much, though it was eventually persuaded on.

off_prescott

Colin and Sara Davies have changed cars this season too.  Sara said, “its like a different hill”  And how right she was.  I’ve driven Prescott literally a hundred times, but the first time up in the FF was very different. Essentially I’ve got to relearn it. Even though my first run was a PB by over 2.5 seconds it was basically a slow run up the hill to sus things out.  My second run was nearly 2 seconds faster as I started to learn the hill/car combination.

prescott_2

My target for the first official run was to get into the 52’s.  Which I did, just, at 52.95.  For the final run I wanted a 51 something, and would have bet that I’d achieved it, however the display on the return road showed 53.06 – slower.  So what had gone wrong?

Replaying the last run in my head it was evident that I was getting lots of wheel spin – out of Etores and out of Pardon.  So I need to think about sorting that out, and that highlights the trouble with hillclimbs; it will be a while until the next time out at Prescott and I’ll only get 4 goes then.  It got me thinking about data-logging again.

Some points/observations from the weekend:

  • The HSA is a great club.. excellent company and the right sort of competition all day.
  • History is odd: Charlie Reilly raced the same kart/engine combo as me in the 80’s – at the same places.
  • Thanks to Dave Winfield for his help, not a bad mechanic for a simulation engineer.