I finally do Shelsley..

Shelsley was the first Hillclimb I went to.  Mike Pilbeam gave me some freebie tickets for the 90th Anniversary event, and at that point I decided that that was where my motorsport future lay.  I was still karting then, and the children, who put a bit of a hold on things motorsport related, were yet to put in an appearance.

Until now I’d avoided Shelsley. Gurston doesn’t seem to suit the Panda in the way that Prescott or Loton do, and Shelsley looked to be more of the same. And as things worked out I didn’t put in anything which resembled a decent time.  Certainly there was very little scope to close the HSA Championship points gap to Geoff Lancaster.  In fact up to 1.4 production is settled now – Andrew Till first, Geoff second and me third.  If only I’d done some more events early in the year.

Picture taken by Bob Ridge-Stearn

But aside from the points situation it turns out that Shelsley Walsh is an incredible hill to drive. I really enjoyed running there for the first time. A few more runs and maybe the times will fall a little, but that, with any luck, will be with the RF84.  No RF84 progress recently however – finger trouble.

Photo’s below by Barbara Marks




Another wet Prescott and other misadventures..

The weather forecast for the weekend was never anything other than rain.  The miracle was that there were any dry runs at all.  Lining up for my first run I thought; “take it smoothly, show some commitment but get to the top”.  The start seemed good and I was up to third well before Orchard.  So, smoothly through corner 1 and on to Etores aiming for the apex. Then on to Pardon, which went OK. The Esses seemed to go well, unusually, and then on to the Semi-Circle. So when I went back round the return road I expected to see something like 61 or 62 on the clock.  Smooth, neat and steady.  And a PB at 58.5.  Amazing!!!  4/10’s off the previous PB.

But not long after came the inevitable for 2016 at Prescott rain.  For some reason getting off the line was tough in the wet and I put in a couple of pretty poor times.  But then the rain eased off a bit and I was presented with a pretty dry track.  S0 61.1 was ultimately OK, but if it had stayed dry I think a decent performance would have been on the cards.  One day I’ll get a dry official run and close the 1.5 second gap between my practice PB and my event PB.panda_loton919602

Depressingly I slammed my finger in the rear door of the Panda as I was about to head home. Quite messy – thanks to the start line medics who gave it a look over. I only hope it’s healed up by Shelsley Walsh on the 17th, where I see we have a bumper entry in 1.4 Roadgoing Production.

Not too much progress on the RF84, for the following reasons:

  1. We went to Spa for the GP and sat at Eau Rouge.  As amazing as it sounds.
  2. Finger
  3. Some brackets had missed being replated so are off being done.
  4. I made a copy of the plate which supports the rear lower wishbones.  And faithfully copied an issue with the hole positions, which were one of the reasons I was remaking it. Start again.







A big leap forward.. in fact two..

Having assembled the front uprights and picked up the newly painted, and’ bearinged’, front wishbones and pullrods some time ago, it was high time to trial assemble the front end.  Trial assembly made sense on two levels.  The first is that I want to replace all the bolts and am yet to purchase them, and secondly, it is quite likely that it will take a few goes to get it all together properly.  There isn’t much to say about the assembly process. All pretty straight forward.  And quite impressive when done. Its starting to look look like a racing car at last.


With the front suspension all in place (OK its not all in place – I’m not connecting the anti-roll bar until the final go at it all) the next job was to add the front panel.  Most of the holes in the chassis have been filled – but those in the front cross tubes have not. And this meant that the panel had to be fitted using the original holes in the chassis members.  Needless to say I messed up the hole positions in the panel I had bought; meaning that I had to make a new one from scratch.  This process was largely a repeat of the firewall make, and therefore, although cutting the holes for the master cylinder complicated the job, it all went very well; including pop-riveting it in place.



Last week I also went to pick up the gearbox from Mark Bailey, after its extensive rebuild.  The box looks superb, so bolting it in to the rear of the chassis is the next job.  However a search of the relevant plastic bins, and a look a the pre-breakdown photo’s, showed that 2 support brackets needed to be added at the same time as the rear ally plate and connector casting.  And these needed re-plating.  This afternoon’s work revolved around boxing them up.. Apparently I can expect to seem them again in about 4 weeks.  Plenty of time, then to clean the aluminium parts, and to make a start on rebuilding the rear uprights.







Lugging half a tank of fuel up the hill at Loton and replacing the upright bearings.

After the Midland round at Gurston I spent a frantic 20 minutes driving round Salisbury looking for petrol.  Having found a garage (along with a few other roadgoing competitors) I decided to fill the tank.  Gurston to Witney then Witney to Loton was pretty much guaranteed to leave the tank almost empty as I drove into the paddock for the HSA round.  The mods (for the record exhaust, cam and airbox) seem to have increased the mpg not reduced it; as I drove along the M54, and then the A5, it was increasingly apparent that I’d have over 1/2 a tank when I arrived.  It seemed barely credible. But without any way of extracting the extra fuel I was left to drag it up Loton Hill 4 times. (I know the answer – I’ve got a jerry can and a siphon is on the way from Demon-Tweeks.  I’m also planning the removal of the rear wiper motor and mechanism and some other bits and pieces will get the chop in the name of lightness.)

My first practice run was a 73.75 and my second was a PB of 72.71. The first official run was another PB – 72.32, but I missed a gear (sound familiar) on run 2 and only achieved a 73.5.  But lots to be pleased about; my new PB was 1.32 seconds faster than last year and 6/10s faster than May.  Its all heading in the right direction, even though the points I scored left me behind Geoff Lancaster still!!  The picture below is from the May meeting actually, and was stolen from a Flickr account called “Its Mr Pants”…

May 2016 Loton

Back in the workshop it was time to rebuild the uprights.  I’d repainted the stripped fabrications using smooth hamerite.  Given that it was a spraycan I used lots and lots of light coats, leaving at least 8 hours in between.  The results were pretty gratifying.

Pressing the bearings back into the housings was pretty straightforwards – lots of copperslip as specified by Simon at URS.  My first attempt at pressing a hub in was what could be described as a total failure.  Somehow the hub didn’t seem to want to press in, and when I released the press the hub was about 15 degrees off axis.  Removing it destroyed the new bearing.  Time to order another new one.  Meanwhile more attention to alignment had the second hub in easily.  The moral of the story is obvious.

Removing the damaged bearing from the upright was very easy, almost certainly courtesy of the industrial quantities of copper grease used. The new bearing was easily assembled into the upright..


The only thing to do now is to torque up the central nut and bolt assembly. Sadly the new nylocs I’d sourced were too high for the nylon section to engage on the thread.  So a new set are being machined to suit.  I also managed to fit the pedals…  By the next blog I should have the new master cylinders in, and the front suspension at least trial fitted.








Changing the bearings in the uprights and a weekend at Gurston Down

The big one. Changing the bearings in the front uprights.  I’d looked it up on the internet and been sent a set of instructions by Simon at Universal.

So its a two step process – remove the central hub from the bearing – then remove the bearing from the upright.  Because of some later problems, I drew it all in Onshape.

The bearing is shown in a sort of yellow, the hub grey and the upright black.

To remove the hub from the bearing you need to support the flange somehow and press the bearing off by pushing pins through the holes in the flange.  (Whilst I’m at: nothing shown on this blog is meant to define a definitive safe way of working – its how I did it and I may have taken some risks that aren’t recommended.)

Problem 1: I used silver steel rods, and the first set bent before the bearing even moved.

I cut a set of rods which only projected a small amount. And when I pressed on these the whole assembly made a sort of clunking noise and the hub started to move.  I cut two more sets of pins and managed to push the hub right out.  Excellent. Pushing the bearing out of the upright was relatively simple.  Job done; well half done at worst.  What’s the word?  Hubris, that’s it.

When it came to repeating all this for the other side, things went wrong quite quickly.   The first evidence of this was that I managed to push the first set of rods all the way in without freeing the hub.  There was no way to get them out.

Problem 2: No way forward as I couldn’t remove the pins

A good friend of mine, Derek Knight, a toolmaker by profession, has a very well equipped workshop, and he managed to remove the bearing by effectively removing critical bits of it. No exaggeration to say that he has saved the day.  As well as being seized in there seemed to be evidence that the hub had skidded in the inner race.  Time for a new hub from URS.

Having completed all this the Midland Hillclimb event at Gurston was next on the calendar.  Being third in the B Championship meant that I was focused on gaining a few points – nobody above me in the league table had entered.  The weekend was hot – on Saturday very hot.  I managed to put in a few times under 47s – one faster than I’d been up the hill without a cage (making the car quite a bit lighter).  However on my first competition run I missed a gear on the run to the finish line.  Nearly 3 seconds slower than my fastest run, but still amazingly, the fastest 1.4 runner.  A somewhat pointed approach to gearshifting in my second run meant that I only put in a semi-decent time, but still fastest 1.4 and hopefully highest scoring Midland B entrant.  I’m somewhat impatient to see the latest Midland positions!




More wet runs at Prescott and a vist to Universal


First some Panda stuff.  Having had an encouraging run out at Curborough it was time to try the new cam at Prescott.  My first run up the hill was a PB at 59.39 – 1/2 a second up on my best time from practice last year.  My next was even better – one of those all too rare runs where you feel that you had it nailed and everything flowed properly.  58.89.  (I’m sure there’s a 57 something to be had!!)   Then the inevitable. Rain, in fact heavy rain.  So 60.00 remains my fastest event time, although my wet runs did win me a few useful HSA points, temporarily lifting me to second in class A1. I must remember to email C&B and tell them how happy I am with their work.


Now Formula Ford progress.  A work visit to Lotus allowed me to drop in to see Simon and Ken at Universal Racing Services. What an amazing operation those guys run.  The pretext was to pick up the newly plated and re-bearinged (is that a word?) front suspension and pedals.  Simon also managed to sell me a GRP moulded suspension cover – necessary when running an RF84 in competition these days.  I was planning to make one myself, but for £35 it was crazy to do anything other than buy it.   As the plan is to change every bearing on the car I also purchased a set of front wheel bearings.


Fitting these bearings needs a press.  A week or so ago the problem of finding a press was solved by the “Machine Mart VAT free weekend” which legally is probably more of a 20% discount weekend.  Anyway the press was delivered and I spent last weekend making an appropriate stand and assembling it.  By the time that was done there was precious little time to actually do anything on the car. Hopefully I’ll get time to work on the uprights next weekend, before helping run the Dreaming Spires model aircraft competition.

Things are changing on the RF-84 project, until a week or two ago I was waiting for parts to come back in a refurbished condition; now they are either back, or in the case of the gearbox almost ready to come back.  A plan to take a few days off work to make some progress on the car may need to be put into action. Soon.

The Graham Hill Sprint and other diversions

Again limited progress on the RF84.  I did pop rivet the name plate to the firewall, the importance of which is almost purely symbolic. The gearbox is off at MBR and the front suspension and pedals still at URS.  Pressing the bearings out of the front uprights is still a work in progress.  Finding a time that is convenient for everyone involved with the press is proving a bit difficult – so a 20% off offer on a 10 tonne press at Machine Mart will have to be bought into play this weekend.


Recently I’ve had a bit of work done on the Panda.  I’ve probably mentioned the Ragazzon exhaust here before, but I’ve also had a set of Columbo and Barriani cams fitted. I called C&B a little while ago and they suggested a cam profile which would give a small increase in top end whilst improving torque and driveability.  So after these had been fitted by Bradleys in Shipton Under Wychwood; great job Adam and hope the finger is on the mend; getting out seemed like a really great idea.  Good job I’d entered to Owen MC Graham Hill Sprint at Curborough, on the figure of 8 course. I also needed the HSA points, being stuck somewhere near the bottom of the table. (As an aside Hill is probably the first racing driver I can remember being aware of.)

On the morning of the event I woke to possibly the worst cold I’ve had in years; tempted not to go I instead starting consuming industrial quantities of Lemsip Max and got in the car.  As you’d expect when there isn’t a single raindrop on the weather apps it started pouring just before my run.  90s was a pretty terrible time, but I wasn’t exactly 100%.  Second run – still wet and I managed to knock off about 5s and put in a respectable time.  The combination of exhaust, air inlet and cams seemed to have transformed the car. Still a 100hp Panda (now up to around 113hp if the Bradleys Dyno is any judge of these things) but now one with a motor which revs cleanly and enthusiastically, and sounds the part too. The people at C&B had been spot on. By my timed run the track was almost dry, so I could go for it a bit more.  Upshot: 8/10’s off my dry track PB, and with a stinking cold.  When the rain started again I abadonded any ideas of a final run – I’ve thrown it away at Curborough in the wet before. I was more than happy with the time, but much happier when I saw the number of HSA points that I’d scored later in the week. From the foot to the middle of the table in one event!! 3 more HSA events should improve the table position some more by the end of the year.  I might even consider others, depending how class A1 looks just before they hand out trophies..

Grahah Hill

Fast lap from Graham Hill Sprint



A visit to MBR, RF-84 pics, hub woes.. and solutions..

Lots to report on the RF-84.  Firstly the trip to visit Mark Bailey on Friday.

I was under no illusions about the state of the Hewland MK9 that I bought last year.  It was always going to need new bearings, seals and a stack of other bits. And as Mark stripped it it was evident that this was the case.  It also needed a little welding, and the bolts needed replacing with studs as per the original. The job list is extensive, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll have a decent box which will last a few seasons when the work is done.  As we talked as Mark worked, it became apparent that we knew a lot of the same people, and had even raced at many of the same Kart meetings in the 80’s.

When I bought the car Dermot said he’d bought it from Mark.  That was indeed the case, and the pictures shown here are a small selection of those that I took away with me on Friday.  They are both useful for the rebuild, and a great record of the car as it was raced a few years back.

A great way to spend a morning.


A job that needs doing before I complete the rebuild of the front suspension is to change the wheel bearings.  This involves a lot of a work and a press.  Having lined up the use of a press all I needed to do was undo the bolts which pass through the hubs.  Simon from Universal said something like “this should be straight forward”. Well it wasn’t.  The bolts must have been torqued to something like 400Nm and it was simply impossible to undo them. I spent a good part of Saturday trying. And then I spent the evening working out what to do. I came up with a fixture which would hold the hub whilst I undid the bolt; sometimes when I’m working on the car I forget I’m an engineer.  When I remember what I do for a living some of these problems are easier to solve.  By Sunday evening I’d undone the bolts. Quite a sense of achievement.







Unknown Hero

I’ve been travelling with work so here’s a blog inspired by the book I took to read on the plane..  You have to focus on the positives where you can.

If I look at the obsessions which dominated the first 20 years of my life, the list goes something like this; racing model aircraft, karting, and helping out at motorcycle meetings.  (Studying is notably absent from this list; a point I try to hide from my son as he takes his A-Levels.) At the heart of those obsessions is one piece of technology.  The two stroke engine.  But not just the two stroke; the two stroke equipped with an expansion chamber exhaust. When my Dad bought a BBC Micro computer home most people my age would have started gaming.  I wrote a program to design two stroke exhausts. Woe betide anyone who told me that two strokes were simple…


And at the time I had a two stroke tuning hero, but more of him later.

A story on the Motorsport website about Frank and Rita Perris contained a reference to Stealing Speed by Matt Oxley, who also wrote the article;  I found myself reading it as we waited for the flight to Boston. I’d finished it before the return flight took off.

So the long and the short of it is that I possibly had a vague recollection of the name Walter Kaaden. I’m possibly being too kind to myself here.  Whatever, I would have been pushed to tell you what he did.  What he did was invent the rotary induction valve, the boost port (sometimes called a TT port.. mm…might have an idea why now)  and critically the expansion chamber exhaust. Pretty much a description of a racing two stroke engine, whatever its scale or application.  Here is a man who should have been my hero throughout the late 70’s and 80’s and I couldn’t even recall his name with any certainty. The picture is put in even sharper focus for me. Kaaden’s theories on resonance were developed whilst he worked at Peenemude in the 40’s, and one thing Oxley is wrong about in his book, is that at least one wannabe Kaaden in the 80’s had heard of the place.


But Walter Kaaden was East German.  And whilst the cold war was still a real and present part of everyone’s lives it was incredibly unlikely that we’d have thought much about him, as I, and many of my friends, lovingly fettled engines which were based, almost entirely, on his pioneering work.  So to the hero I did have.  Dr Joe Ehrlich.  The man who had legendarily got 84hp from a 250 in the 80’s. Boss of the EMC company, which also made racing cars. The man who supplied Kaaden with many of the components he needed to make his MZ’s the unlikely world beaters they were. A man Kaaden called “the charlatan”.  My immediate reaction was to replace one hero with another.  But in 1984 when the 84hp 250 ran, Kaaden was already in retirement and behind the iron curtain.  So I need to think about that one..

All this has fired up my interest in 2 strokes again, although designing and building a 2 stroke engine has never been far from the top of the to do list. And now I’ve discovered that there is a 50cc racing scene, and somebody made a 50cc 4!!!  Just what I need, another obsession returning.








In which I knock 8/10’s off my PB at Loton, talk to some Formula Ford drivers and line up a gearbox rebuild.

Not much RF-84 rebuild news as in all honesty there hasn’t been much action on that front.  Too many hillclimbs and other stuff for that.

The Midland Champs event at Loton last weekend was fantastic, even though as Bob Ridge-Stern reports on his site, you’d go a long way to find many people who prefer a 2 day event to a 1 day one. I for one would prefer to do all my runs on one day and get home; the gap between runs is just too much over 2 days.  But when an event is as great as Loton was, I can’t complain that much.  Weather was fantastic and the venue was as fantastic as ever. It ties with Prescott as my favourite course.  As I mentioned in the title I managed to knock 8/10’s off my time, which I was really very happy with.  Looking at the numbers some can be put down to the car going faster because of its new exhaust and some, I hope, can be put down to me. When I got back I extended the results spreadsheet to include all the split times and speeds, and hacked around to create some sector times. Which showed me a lot.


Essentially, the run made of fastest sector times isn’t much faster than my best time.  And I could see just how completely I messed up my last run.  But then I had fallen asleep just before it.  See comments on 2 day meetings.

The good thing about a 2 day meeting is the time you’ve got for talking.  I managed to hook up with some of the Formula Ford drivers. One of them seemed to think the RF84 was ugly. Ugly or not it will be out in their class next year.

So coming up?  The Graham Hill Sprint on the Curborough 8 and a visit to Mark Bailey Racing to look at what needs doing on the MK9 Hewland.  Exciting stuff.