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.


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.


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.


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.







Another trip round the Curburgring 8

I always enjoyed the Owen Motor Club Graham Hill Sprint in the Panda, and it’s not just the association with one of my favourite drivers.  I like the 8 configuration, the Owen Motor Club always run a great event, and this year the weather was perfect for my first HSA outing of the season.  Not bad.

I was hoping to pick up where I’d left off at the MAC Sprint a few weeks back. But motorsport isn’t like that.  On my first practice run I tried to pull away after the molehill and depressingly was in neutral.  It took a few goes to get it in to gear and by that time any prospect of a decent run was history.  The same happened next time out.  Cue deep depression.  Followed by it dawning on me that I’d fixed this sort of issue before when I couldn’t select 4th.


That was achieved by moving the gear lever forwards.  The lower end is held in a ball joint, and the position of this can be altered by screwing it in and out of the threaded boss on the chassis.  2 turns of the bearing increased the travel in the 2nd/4th direction and come the first official run run the gear shift worked perfectly.  I actually cheered inside my helmet.  Run 1 was timed at 69.04 – not great but much better than the practice pace. I tried to keep it steady for run 2 and was really pleased to take 0.3s off my PB.  Today the HSA website shows I scored 13 points and leaped straight into 53rd place in the championship. I’m really looking forward to getting more rounds in this year.  Watch out Carol.

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In terms of running the car I moved on some more too.  I’m getting quite practiced at cutting the engine at the right point to stop it getting too hot and I’ve developed a technique to stop the clutch overheating and dragging at the start.  Basically I approach the line and put the car into neutral whilst the start line marshalls do their stuff.  When I’m about to go I put my foot on the brake to arrest any movement as I put it into 1st, then off the brake and onto the throttle to go.  Might not be optimal but it does seem to work and remove the heat stress/creep etc.

Next outing Prescott. First time on a hill in the FF.






Somewhere familiar, in the dry..

Its true to say that the Abingdon Sprint wasn’t hugely enjoyable. Unfamiliar track, unfamiliar car and the all too familiar rain.  Fantastic shake down and an opportunity to learn both driving and running the car without having to drive miles. But not really enjoyable as such.


So I signed up for the new competition car test day at Curborough in May.  The weather for this was perfect, and I was somewhat surprised to see a Porsche 962 in the paddock when we arrived.  This was apparently being shaken down before the Spa classic and is right up there on my list of favourite cars.

Driving the RF84 on a warm, dry, day was a revelation.  It was quick, grippy and responsive, and I managed to put in about 30 laps, mostly on the figure 8, ordinarily a seasons worth. By the end of the session I really wanted to know what my times were like, but being a practice session I was never going to find that out.

Shelsley Walsh/MAC run a sprint on the Curborough 8 – so I signed up for that.  And apart from anything else it would be good practice for my HSA Formula Ford debut which is planned to be the Owen Motor Club Graham Hill Sprint.  Nice event that one.

Anyway weather for the MAC event was perfect. But it did mean that keeping the temperature under control was a new skill to learn.  Basically I went from turning the engine off when it was looking like it was getting too hot, to turning it off when it got somewhere near the right temperature.  And restarting seemed OK without the boost battery, which was lucky given the Curborough startline arrangements.

My target was to beat my best Panda time – I’d been driving that for 4 seasons so had extracted the maximum from it.  Needless to say the FF still felt like a new experience. Especially in the dry.  I was more than happy with my first timed run – 69.6s – more than 7 seconds faster than my best ever Panda time.  The picture below may go some way to explaining why..


On my second run I messed up the gearchange on the way to the first corner, and overdrove trying to recover.  But my first official run was timed at 67.92s – best part of 9 seconds faster than my Panda PB – really happy with that.  With more to come, I’m sure. (When I got home I was really happy to read that the HSA record is 66s.).  On my final run I was held for an age, and the clutch must have overheated as it then started dragging and the car moved forward. Not great start to a run, but I’d have taken 68.6 at the start of the day.


At present I’m not familiar enough with the car to comment on the handling it being so different to the car I’ve campaigned for the last 4 seasons.  But gearing is another matter.  That seems all a bit wrong.  I’m up to 3rd for the first corner, down to 2nd at the Molehill, but then I do the whole figure of 8 bit in second.  On the finishing straight I do get to 4th but only as I cross the line.  Seems to me that I need lower gearing in 2nd 3rd and 4th for Curborough..  Might have to investigate how to achieve this..  but its a big ask by the next event.

Pictures, as is often the case here, by Derek Hibbert.

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Oddly Symmetric

So I wake up today for the first time in years not being the owner of a Red Fiat Panda.  Yesterday Bob Ridge-Stearn bought RV09 in a deal which allows me first refusal if he wants to sell it.  As he says in his blog,, if I had the sort of garages you find in some of the villages around here I would be keeping it.  Another thing he points out had escaped me – when I first ran the Panda he had a Van-Diemen and now I’ve got a Van-Diemen he’s got the Panda.  Oddly symmetric.

Me having fun in the Panda – I hope Bob does too!!

News of the RF84 has been a bit sparse here for a while.  Whilst it was being finished off by Jo White it seemed a bit unfair to blog about the process, especially as at times it became somewhat challenging.  The RF84, is, it must be said, a singular creature.  There is so much to report on this subject, and for me, if not Jo, it has been an incredible process.  In summing up the last few months I’m going to take a non-chronological approach, and in this blog simply talk about the first drives.

So the first time I drove the RF84 properly came a few weeks ago.  Given the proximity of Bicester Heritage Centre’s track to both home and Jo’s workshop it seemed ideal.  And its not too bad a track either.  As has become usual for this project the main thing was dodging the heavy rain, and thank-fully we ran in a dryish spell.  This was also the first time we’d mated the bodywork to the car, and to say I was pleased with how it looked would be an understatement.  It’s supposed to be the ugliest formula ford ever, but I can’t see that.  There are lots worse lookers than this!!




The first drive went very well, even though I had a small spin early on.  It’s been a very long time since I drove a single seater, and this time it all seemed more immediate, more responsive; maybe 3 seasons hillclimbing has made me a better driver, or at least one with a better idea of how a car handles.

After the test I did the Abingdon Long Circuit Sprint.  This isn’t exactly in the Prescott or Harewood mould, but it did offer a great opportunity to try the car somewhere with lots of run off and not much to crash into.  As is usual when driving this car the weather went from light rain to heavy rain.  On my last run I was warned that 5 and 7 might have some standing water.  At one corner, I guess it must have been 7, I was met by what seemed to be a solid black wall.. evidently made of water and lots of small bits of tarmac, which in pretty short order joined me in the cockpit.  Instantly I had a sensation of having a very wet neck.

I was never in the hunt for a decent time, but the car ran well and above all I had a great time.  And it was great to have Jo along.  I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season – I’m not running for a couple of weeks, but that’s a great opportunity to get the list of small problems put right..




Beyond the pride of Norfolk..

Whilst the RF84 is off being finished I’ve been looking at projects beyond the pride of Norfolk.. (I’m not blogging about the Van-Diemen as I couldn’t think of anything more annoying than working on a project whilst somebody else writes a commentary. Hence the lack of blogs recently.)  When the car is together and running I’ll put a proper update together on what was done, by whom, how and why… it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the RF84 continues to surprise as to just how ‘individual’ a design it is.. But to other things.

Since I started drawing a Formula 750, on my board, in the 1980’s, the idea of a Laurence Marks penned car hasn’t ever, fully, gone away.  (I even bought an engine, gearbox, uprights and an axle before giving up on that idea in the early 90’s.)  Playing with the new DS product, Xflow, got me interested in external aero again, and to do that properly I needed to draw some decent car models. A project that I’ve got lined up (hopefully I’ll be showing some of it off before too long) means decent geometry is essential. So to prevent me wasting too much time I created a carline template.  Its got wheels that can be varied in size and position, and the track and wheelbase are set up so that they can be varied by simply editing a value.  It also plainly needed a driver, and all too rarely in the history of motorsport, I was the obvious choice.  So for the second time in our married lives Mrs Marks had to help me measure myself in a driving position. This time the result is parametric, useful if I start growing again I guess, and can be moved around for various seating position options.


I also added front and rear wings, mainly to look at the options for parametrically changing wing section, position and angle.  By now you can probably see where this is going. A little idle hacking around and a bit of downloading from Grabcad and I’d got something that looks a bit like a hillclimb car.


If you’ve read the Newey book you’ll see where I got the idea for the wing fences that extend to the front wheels.  At this stage the idea of the model was primarily to look at aero, and the initial runs are very interesting, hampered though they are by the fact that I can’t get on a machine with a useful number of processors at the moment.  I’m working on that one..


Now this thing (it hasn’t got a name or number yet) is starting to have a life of its own.  Works in progress now include reading the blue book, especially the rops bits, drawing a parametric space frame that can be optimised and crash test analysed, and obviously there’s lots to do on the aero side and then suspension.  I don’t think that I’ll be able to resist blogging what happens as I progress with this.

Anyone spot that the day job doesn’t have much engineering in it any more?





So that was hillclimbing a Panda

For various reason’s, mostly nothing to do with cars, its taken me an age to get this posted.
With the end of the Van Diemen build in sight the end of my time Hillclimbing the Panda has come. I rounded off with a visit to Gurston and then a final run out at Shelsley.
As I’ve mentioned before I had already achieved the benchmark times I’d set myself, so these runs were largely to try to beat Andrew Till in the HSA Championship. The Gurston meeting at the Bank Holiday weekend lucked into near perfect conditions. I’d driven straight to Salisbury after getting home from a family break to Amsterdam; so after all this effort it was really very annoying to have the throttle sensor fail on the line during the first run. Cue a slow drive home, followed by a much faster drive back on the Sunday in my road car.
There is much talk in the paddock about what you could summarise as “too much safety”.  Anyone who saw Alex Summers’ crash on the Sunday would probably loose their enthusiasm for that line of argument.  Watching from the spectators enclosure at Carousel I saw the DJ Firestorm at some considerable height, and even worried that it might land in the public area. After the crash the engine raced until marshalls killed it.  I feared the worst, but after a little while Alex walked from the remains of the car.  If I had been involved in the design or manufacture of the tub I’d have been quite pleased, and I probably wouldn’t be complaining about how safety regulations are being tightened all the time.
Replacing the throttle pedal sensor wasn’t a big or expensive job, which enabled me to be out at Shelsley for the last run out in the Panda. There was nothing too special about my performance in the event, and the threat of rain never really went away.  In fact the Esses were literally green for the early runs, and I couldn’t get over the thought of having to advertise the Panda as suitable for panel beater. Very enjoyable day but average performance. (Car is for sale now – £4000 – full spec available on request!)

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Good runs at Prescott.. and cop out time..

I’m about to cop out big time..  But before we come to that some more on this season’s competing in the Panda.

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Since I last posted I’ve done a couple of events at Prescott.  A barely believable run of wet afternoons after dry practices meant that my PB, on the hill I’ve run at most, was only 60.00’s.  My best time up the hill in practice is 58,54 – nearly 11/2 seconds faster.

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Rain wasn’t a likely prospect at the June HSA round.  It was really hot. maybe not as hot as the Midland Gurston round last year, but the temperature reading on the dash still showed 32 degrees.   For the only time in my hillclimb career my first run was red flagged, and unusually I drove back and was directed straight on to the start line.  As nothing had a chance to cool down I managed to put in a respectable sub 59 time.  Which I didn’t manage to repeat all day – I’ll blame the high temperatures. Still the 59.02 I did do was OK.  That did however leave some unfinished business.  With any luck (see below) this will be the last season out in the Panda.  And my target was a sub 59.  So I signed up for the Bugatti Owners Club B license series and got an entry for early July.

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Practice for this meeting was wet – so I just took it easy to ensure I had a car for the dry runs in the afternoon that the weather forecast seemed to predict.  Sure enough the track had dried over lunchtime to allow me to put in my first ever sub 59 in an event.  This also put me a reasonable way up the 27 car class field, so for my last run a bigger chunk off my target time would have been nice.  I knew that I was losing time at Etores and the Esses, and sure enough with a bit of effort and commitment I managed to claw a few more tenths off my time..  58.68.  Good enough for 7th in class on the handicap system and overall faster than a good few cars, many of which are generally known to be faster than a FIAT Panda.  Really very happy with that.  And now I’ve achieved my personal target times at a number of places: sub 42 at Curborough, sub 59 at Prescott, sub 47 at Gurston..  Possibly time to move on.

As I write the other computer in the study is showing the live timing from practice for the Gurston Formula Ford Festival.  Which was meant to be the first meeting for the RF84.  And as you can see from this blog it’s not exactly ready to go.  Progress is much slower than I expected for all sorts of reasons.  So I’m going to see if I can get somebody to finish the car for me.  Its a cop out – but if I carry on like this I’ll be sitting here next year wishing I was running at Gurston..



Kentish man..


The Ford crossflow engine looms large in my family history.  We were a Ford family. My Grandfather had a V8 Pilot, later a Cortina and then a Mk1 Escort.  My parents had a MK1 Escort, then two Mk2’s.  In fact I inherited the Mk1, and used it to tow my kart to meetings.. (see ancient picture below). And all bar the Pilot had the crossflow engine.  And it only dawned on me as ordered gaskets for my FF engine that the Kent engine was the crossflow.


Progress on the Rf84 means that fitting the engine is looming large, and therefore I’m having to reacquaint myself with the Dagenham power unit.  Some aspects of the engine are obviously familiar.  Others less so.  Whatever; the plan with the engine is to leave it pretty much alone, or as alone as possible, and use it, as it is, to power my first goes at driving the car. If necessary I’ll get it rebuilt next winter.

Those not in the know may not appreciate that oil pumps come in two types – front mounted and side mounted.  The Gatmo engine I’ve got, shown below right, has a front mounted pump, and I’d hoped that was what an RF84 needed. But it turns out that what you need for an 84 Van Diement is a side pump.  Which meant changing the pump and a load of other stuff.  A continual and almost certainly tiresome aspect of this blog is how much I didn’t know, and the oil system isn’t going to buck that trend.

Luckily when I called Neil Bold (I’d heard his engines were good so I thought that by buying the pump from him he’d be able to help me choose the right one) he told me I needed a five port pump. This piece of information was almost self evident; when I sent him a picture (above left) of the original engine there were obviously 5 ports on the pump.  I also sourced a new cam chain cover from Neil.  I thought the cam cover might pass over the water pump drive pulley on the end of the crank.  Meaning that I’d not have to remove it.  But it wouldn’t and I would. Cue deep depression only deepened by watching a series of you-tube videos in which gentlemen called Jed or Earl from the Mid-West of the US remove the pulley nut from engines using rope, or the starter, or a hill and a pickup.  OK these did make me laugh, but none got me nearer solving the problem.  Only cheering up and thinking like an engineer did that.


I needed to lock the flywheel, and it turns out the internet is awash with flywheel lockers that you can buy.  For almost any engine.  I’m sure you are ahead of me here; the Kent engine didn’t seem to feature in any list of supported options.  If I couldn’t design and make a decent flywheel locker.. well.. I wouldn’t deserve the respect of my peers.  As soon as I’d made the locker I had the bolt off the end of the crankshaft without so much as a look at a length of rope, or ride down a hill in a pickup.  Moral of the story – get the right tool for the job, and if you can’t, make it.  Much better than getting stressed and bodging it.

With the pulley nut removed and the pulley extracted with a puller I removed the pump.

But at this point I started measuring stuff.  And it became evident that the engine won’t fit with the current sump.  So time for a new sump, I just don’t have the time or equipment to remove the necessary 6mm from the trough..  Hopefully by the time of the next blog I’ll have the engine in.




The Gurston HSA Round and the rebuild moves up a gear

The time to beat at Gurston was my decent practice time from last year, which, by some way was my best ever. So a sub 46.5 was needed.

Unusually for Gurston in April it wasn’t freezing cold.  In fact in the corner of the paddock reserved for the HSA field the sunshine was actually quite warm. So much so that a least one competitor seemed to be getting some serious Z’s in at one point, possibly if my memory serves, whilst the marshal’s rebuilt a barrier after the close attention lavished on it by a TVR.

Without going into too much detail I managed the sub 46.5 time and PB I wanted – 46.49!!  And I also managed to score a decent crop of HSA points – 10 to add to the 15 I scored at Harewood.  25 points after 2 meetings is good enough for me.  The Owen Motor Club Graham Hill sprint next.


The Formula Ford is starting to actually look like a racing car.  The requirement to be able to sit on the trailer was achieved after some intensive work, even though the front corner had to be re-rebuilt around some new wishbones, when I discovered that the thread retaining the pull rod was stripped.

The latest status is that I have now riveted all 4 ally side panels, refitted the dash and some of the clocks and even the front bodywork brackets.  The list of obvious jobs still includes refitting the engine and plumbing both hydraulics and electrics.  And repainting – in red and yellow.  But progress is certainly being made and I have at last been able to sit in the car again!