A day out in Norfolk

After talking to a few people about different sprint venues, the Lotus test track at Hethel came up as a good venue which is fast and challenging. Looking at some on-board videos I could see why it was popular.

So I headed off to deepest Norfolk and the home of Lotus. The track is very very smooth, and is designed to F1 test standards. So not the normal home for a rally car. After unloading to probably the most expensive car there a McLaren MP4-12c, I looked over parts of the track to get my bearings.

The day was made up of two practice runs and then two timed runs. The first timed run was a bit of a sighter lap, the second timed run showed me getting closer to the class lead but not close enough. This was being lead by a highly modified Fiesta 1.0 Turbo, showing just how much you can get out of a small modern engine (170bhp+). With this being a fast circuit the lack of power did show up. However it was a good challenge to try and carry as much speed and as the car, tyres and myself would allow through some great twisty sections. The best part was around the pits, which was a flowing section taken flat out in 4th.

After the first timed run I had closed down the gap to two seconds (it was 4 seconds at one point), so it was all down to the final run. This is what I like about sprints, it really focuses your driving on to one run, trying to think where to get time back, and carry speed the most. On the last I really tried hard, and used my best rally cutting techniques to ‘trim’ the grass a little, but it was all a little too late as I got the gap down to 1.1 seconds. However it was a good battle, and a challenge to get me to think hard about my driving. The Micra and the rather standard Yoko A539’s performed faultlessly, and the competition pushed me on hard and beat 3rd in class by nearly 18 seconds…

Sadly there was no photography or on-boards allowed on the venue, but I do have some data logging traces recorded on my iPhone (hence the odd view).

Here is one from my first practice run.

To Poland and back…

Regular readers may have spotted it has been quiet for a good while and that is because we have been away for two plus weeks, marshaling on the Euro leg of the Peking to Paris rally.

We drove out to Poland to meet the rally, and then followed the event all the way through Europe to Paris. It was a tough two weeks with early starts, and many late nights plus very changeable weather from baking hot 36’c sun to 0’c and snow and ice.

This though meant a quiet June and July for the rally car and in the garage.

However August will be busier, currently planned is a sprint at Hethel (Lotus test track), a targa rally at Debden and hopefully a stage rally at Wethersfield at the end of the month.

So to get ready for these events, the weekend has been busy doing :-

  • Scrubbing in x4 Yoko A539’s
  • Oil & filter change
  • Hopefully curing a small oil leak on the dipstick tube
  • Fitted new grooved front discs and EBC Black pads
  • Full bolt check
  • Bleeding front brakes

On the Stelvio pass

Weighty issues

So with the chance to use a set of proper corner scales, I took the chance to see just how heavy dear Muriel is :-


This is with the car in stage spec, with no crew on board. The car had 3/4 of a tank of fuel and was on 14″ Nissan alloys with 155/65 R14 tyres, (roof lining & carpets, which stay in to be road rally legal), tarmac spec sump guard and all four brake cooling ducts.

The total weight of 851kgs is pleasing, as that is a dry weight of nearly 800kgs. But as always there is more weight that can be lost!

Car prep

Over the last few weeks, I have been in the garage on and off doing a number of jobs.

  • Trimmed the rear bumper, to tidy it up and reduce weight
  • Removed a number of brackets from the rear part of the shell, for more weight saving.
  • Seam welding in the rear of the car
  • The rear shocks have been back to Spax for a re-build and are now fitted back.
  • The rear strut brace, has had a new adjuster machined for it which improves its strength. Also the mounts for this have been properly welded to the shell, instead of being fitted with tek bolts.
  • Cleaned the door squares, removing all old residual glue.
  • Added new towing eye stickers
  • Fitted new LED number plate bolts, again saving weight, and removed the rear Nissan badge.
  • Improved ECU mounting
  • Improved engine breathing pipework and changed breather filter.
  • Prepped new driveshafts, with competition spec CV grease.

An evening on grass

After a bit of a break from competitive driving, it was a trip down to Brands Hatch last Thursday to take part in one of Sevenoaks MC grass autotests. These are short, fun tests run in one of the grass car parks at the back of Brands Hatch.

It was about a year since my last grass autotest, so at first I was a little rusty but you never really forget how to abuse the handbrake. You get two runs at the tests with the best times to count. Due to the rather wet weather recently, there was still a lot of grass on the field, this made grip at a real premium however this seemed to suit my driving style as it leveled out any power / car disadvantages. The courses were fun, with only two with any reversing, and even these were simple.

It did take a little to get used to autotesting with ABS, and stability control which couldn’t be turned off in the car. This did lead to a couple of moments, including stalling twice as I got used to feeling what the front wheels are doing with the ABS in action.

The night is really quite fast paced, as there is a limit of 8pm on the venue for noise, so you are constantly moving from one test to another. This is good though as it stops the more competitive types from trying to sandbag and wait until the end to get the most grip.

The second run of the tests, with more grip, and less grass on the ground it was harder to get the car to move around. This allowed others to close up the gap.

By the end of the night I was (provisionally, no final results are out yet) 7th in class and 16th overall out of more than 10 in class and 40 cars overall.


Middlewick Stages – Woodbridge

So after a fair bit of pre event work on the car, it was good to get to Woodbridge and actually use the car in anger.

It had been a while since I had driven the car properly, so I used the local lanes for a bit of a shakedown the week before the event. Pleasingly all was feeling good with the car.

The day dawned bright and sunny at Woodbridge which makes for a nice change as it is usually cold, wet and windy!

On the first stage we had quite a wake up call, as there was an amendment of a possible ‘dip?’ across one of the runways. This lead to this moment.


This certainly woke us up, and showed that really after 6 years of rallying the rear shocks have little to no re-bound control now…. The rest of the first stage was all quite uneventful, apart from sadly seeing Jim Bowie (fellow CMC member) parked up with a bust diff. By the end of the first stages things were looking all tight at the top of the class, we were in 2nd by 1 second and 3rd was just a couple of seconds back. The felt rather pleasing as the other two cars, are highly developed cars running ITB’s, trick gearboxes etc… and not really like our road rally spec car.

However by the end of stage two it was clear that the first stage, was really not representative as the other two near us had woken up and were taking lots of time out of us. So from stage 3 onwards the events became about conserving 3rd in class. The rest of the event was mostly uneventful, though the fast nature of the stages meant it was a good challenge for the crews. One little moment I did have was a slight over shoot, which you can see here

By the end of the event we were clear of 4th in class by nearly 4 minutes, but just over 2mins 30secs off 2nd in class. Anyone want to buy me some ITB’s ?

The car behaved itself, and my new welding held up well. The Dunlops wore out a set of front tyres, which really did start to go ‘off’ on the final stage with cords showing through by the end. Given we were safe in 3rd in class it seemed a waste to fit some new tyres for the final stage.

The event was a long and tough one with the heat and 1hr and 18mins of competition, but the stage layouts were good fun and challenging. So all in all a good days sport🙂

Here you can see stage two, the stage where I was pushing the most.


Whilst doing all the other work on the rally car, by chance I spotted some small cracks on the front wings. I guess this is the result of many year of rallying taking its toll on the shell of the car (~85 events).

Anyway this needed solving before flying over the jumps at Woodbridge, so with a few hours with the grinder, and welder the front end now feels a lot firmer than before.

Here you can see the seam welding mid process


One of the jobs on ‘The List’ is to do further seam welding on the front end, which requires the removal of the wings (not something I had time to do before Woodbridge) and then also seam welding inside the car .