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<conan--> THE RACER
Mark Burton took a while to come to terms with the fact that he was running at the front of the Locost field in his first season of racing, but once the Conan Motorsport driver recognised that he was part of the equation the title followed, by Mick Palmer.
he Riddle of Steel. It is a tale where the protagonist believes that all of his power is dependant upon his weapon of choice, before he goes on to discover through trial and error that he himself actually is a part of the equation. The sword does not make the hero, but the hero makes the sword, it is a literary device in the Conan tales created by Robert E Howard, and is carried forward as a motif into the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies of the 1980s. It draws a parallel with Conan Motorsport racer Mark Burton whose first full season in racing caught him by surprise as he took the 750 Motor Club Locost crown at his first attempt. In 2018 Burton took that title in one of the most competitive series in the country after only previously
experiencing two race weekends in his entire career. In parallel to the Conan comic strip, and its cinematic interpretation, it took some time for him to convince himself that he was a major factor in that achievement. It’s a humble angle for a champion to take, but when you get the chance to talk with the driver himself you soon realise that humbleness, and pragmatism, are key reasons why that success came relatively quickly. We meet in the Locost paddock on the Sunday morning of a typical race weekend. The immaculately prepared Conan car, emblazoned with the number one plate, sits in its striking red and black livery alongside the matching campervan and awning that becomes home across a race weekend. It’s around an hour-and-a-half
before the first race of the day and up and down the paddock nerves are beginning to build, cars are being re-checked and people are ambling, willing away the time until the move to the assembly area to move onto the track to line up for the start. I start by asking Burton about his transition from competing in sprints to circuit racing. “I did Javelin track days and they started a sprint series a few years ago and an offshoot of that was the Toyota sprint series,” he begins eagerly. “It was actually going for a long time but they don’t really advertise so it’s a strange one. It’s a bit cliquey but they got in with Javelin to try and boost their numbers and both series sort of joined forces. I had a track day MR2, the type that race in the MR2 championship in the C class, the mark three
Photos: Mick Palmer
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“There is a lot going on on a race weekend, you’ve got to be in certain places at certain times and you’ve got to be in that certain mindset.”
Photo: Mick Palmer
and I put a Toyota 2ZZ engine in which is out of a Lotus Elise. It was a quick little car, great fun to drive, so I thought I’ll give it a go for a bit of competition, and I walked it! I thought ‘right, okay, what should I do next?’ I didn’t want to sell it because it was my pride and joy - it really was. It was nicely prepared and well looked after.” A trip to Brands Hatch followed to see fellow Locost racer Greg Smith in action and the close racing and entry price point proved attractive. There was enough lure there to entice Mark into parting ways with the MR2 and hunt the paddock for the right machine. “I ended up buying a car from SRB, from Richard Bradley, which was his own car, not one that he had built to sell.” The next step was one that has had many a driver wake up with a knotted stomach. “I had to do my race license,” he continues. “So I did the ARDS which was easier than I thought to be honest.
I was worried. I was worried that I was going to fail, but you turn up and it’s about proving that you’re competent. You’re not there to break lap records, you’re there to show that you’re safe and competent.” For those of you who race you’ll understand the trepidation of going through the process of getting the clearance to compete, and the nerves that accompany the build up to those first events are a badge of honour that nobody can take away. For the
roll out of Conan Motorsport it was like what most racers go through, nothing truly spectacular. But in this case a sensible, and that word again - pragmatic - approach was taken. “I bought the car at the end of 2017 and I did a track day at Rockingham and then did the Rockingham round to see how I’d get on. I had a few problems with the car - engine stuff - so I got it sorted out, got it on the rolling road and booked the Donington round
Photo: Mick Palmer
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“I went to Croft and won all three races which is where I thought that wasn’t a fluke, I’m in with a chance here.”
at the end of the season so that the car was done and I could put it away for the winter. It meant that I knew the car was sorted, in one piece and the engine was good. In theory I could roll it out at the start of the season and it’d be ready to go. Doing those two rounds was the right thing to do, there is a lot going on on a race weekend, you’ve got to be in certain places at certain times and you’ve got to be in that certain mindset which was as important as learning what to do on track because there’s a lot to think about.” With winter out of the way and the preparation for a full Locost season in full swing there was no vision of grandeur in the Burton household. What was to come 6 Motor Racing UK Issue 4
in 2018 was as far from the radar as could be expected from someone who had only went through two end of season runs just to get into the swing of things. “My aim going into last season was maybe some top ten finishes,” he said. “Maybe a trophy at the odd round, I thought that’d be amazing, I never thought I’d be fighting for the championship, I’m not that cocky.” What happened next came as quite a surprise. ”We went to Castle Combe to test about two weeks before the first round,” Burton recalls. “I was just getting used to the car, I’d never been to the track before, I came in, looked at the lap times and was like: ‘this is faster than the lap record here!’ My friend and my
partner Sam were with me and they were saying: ‘you’re four tenths under the lap record.’ The thing is I was doing that without getting a tow, which is something you rely heavily on in Locosts, and I was like ‘they must’ve resurfaced the track or something,’ then I turned up at Combe for the races and took pole, but I messed it up.” The perplexing pace in qualifying didn’t initially translate to race performance. ”I think I caved under the pressure, by turn one I think I was in 15th or something! I was gutted. The second race was tough, I won it, so I was thinking everyone else has had a bad weekend and that, I was lucky.” What appeared to be a fortuitous start to the season continued: “I went to Brands
Photo: Mick Palmer
and won a race, but I’ve done a lot of track days there with it being my local track and I thought then it was just that I knew the track.” A couple lucky breaks, in his own opinion, wasn’t enough to convince him yet that he was a serious contender to challenge for regular wins, or even the championship, but that was about to change. “I went to Croft and won all three races which is where I thought that wasn’t a fluke, I’m in with a chance here, but I didn’t really believe it. To be honest it was a lot to take in, and if I hadn’t won the championship it wouldn’t have upset me, but I’m pretty proud that I managed to do it!” Further wins at Pembrey, Cadwell and Donington meant that the season ended with
nine victories from 16 races. It was a solid performance that was supported with podiums and consistent points placings in every race at the front of the field. The experience left Burton in a position where he had quickly built a knowledge base of what made the series tick, why it successfully attracts large grids and what it takes to navigate your way through the pack in a form of motor racing that regularly sees pack racing with position swapping at the front. “They’ve got the regulations spot on because they’re not a powerful engine and with the tyres we use they’re a fast Yokohama road tyre, not a track tyre - they’re not that grippy, so the cars do move around a lot but it’s perfectly suited for the power
that the cars have got,” Burton commented when discussing the nature of the performance. “If you put something on like what the MR2 series uses it’d kill the cars and you’d end up with so much grip you’d just drive round everywhere flat out. You could do two seasons on a set of tyres, most people will throw them away at the end of the year, but they’re £220 for the set, and that’s buffed down ready to go from 5mm to 3mm.” From the point of view of watching the cars trackside in qualifying they appear to create a very busy office environment. Standing at the braking point into Sunny In at Croft gives an indication of the amount of work it takes to hustle them and maintain a healthy exit speed and line Issue 4 Motor Racing UK 7
Photo: Mick Palmer
through Sunny Out. A number of cars slither and slide and lose time as they’re hung out a bit too far, but even the top drivers seem to have elastic arms in trying to induce the right steering angles through the corner. It gives, to the uninitiated spectator, the impression that the car is carrying the driver. “I wouldn’t say you’re hanging on,” he says. “You’re always correcting it, they slide a lot, they’re lively without being unpredictable.” It isn’t just the tyres that determine the outcome of Locost racing. It is a fierce and unforgiving form of motorsport with action throughout the field lap after lap. It takes some use of the head in these 15 minute battles to work out how to find a way through the pack.
“The strategy is important in these cars, I learnt that the hard way quite quickly. I didn’t plan ahead. I’d make a mistake or try a move in the wrong place and it would let the other driver past at a key point. I learnt that it’s better to sit and wait and sit and wait and make a move at the key point. Last year at Croft I managed that perfectly and won all three races, but all in different ways. One of them I won from the front when my car was running really hot and I didn’t want to fall into the slipstream and the guy in second went and past me with a lap to go, but I knew where it was where I could get him back. The race before that, with a bit of toing and froing, I sat behind the leader and made the move on the last lap,
and the first race was a classic Locost one. It was four or five people swapping places all race long, it could have been any of us, but I was lucky that it fell into my hands. I had to learn quickly to think four or five corners, or a lap ahead, about where you want to put your car. It was a culture shock at first but it quickly became quite natural.” It is a succinct appraisal of what it takes to compete at the front of the Locost field when the flag drops. But this series is celebrating its 20th anniversary and it has a dedicated grid. Some of these drivers come back year-afteryear in the same car, but what does it take away from the track to make sure you have a car that is ready to compete? “The cars, you can build one
Photos: Mick Palmer
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“I had to learn quickly to think four or five corners, or a lap ahead, about where you want to put your car. It was a culture shock at first but it quickly became quite natural.”
Photo: Mick Palmer
cheap, but you can spend a lot of money. Maintenance isn’t expensive, but it does require a lot of it. I spend a lot of time cleaning, checking and tightening. Some people race and put their car away for the next round and spend the meeting sorting things out with a DNF every other race, I’m not interested in that.” Again, pragmatic preparation was key to the 2018 success, but 2019 has been a bit of a struggle with an engine that hasn’t been quite pumping out the amount of horses that are needed to climb the top step of the podium, but consistent finishes, despite the power drop currently see Burton sitting third in the championship with eight races
to go. With the championship still up for grabs there is no way that Burton will jump ship any time soon. “A jump up to another series would be expensive. It seems that the natural progression is the new Mazda series which is taking a Locost and putting an MX5 engine in it, with stickier tyres. “They’re a lot faster. They’re running in Sports Specials but aiming for their own grid. I could do that, but with my car it’s not straight forward for an engine swap with the way it’s designed and built. I suppose I could sell it and buy a converted one, but if I was to take a jump up I think I’d sell this one and go for something different. The truth is that I enjoy this
racing, and even though I’m struggling with my engine this year it’s where I’m happy. It’s a great social group, the people are great, you’re here for a weekend, you want to have a bit of fun as well and the Locost paddock is one of the best.” There is no sword or sorcery behind the success of Conan Motorsport. Efficient and logical planning and the ability to deliver on the circuit are a combination that has delivered one title, and should deliver more wins down the road. Mark Burton is a name that will remain around the top of the Locost tables for some time yet. As they say: “The strength of steel is nothing compared to the will of a man.” Issue 4 Motor Racing UK 9
ENDURANCE The C1 Racing Club has had a successful couple of seasons with huge grids and close racing, but is it as easy, and as cheap as it seems from the outside? Mick Palmer asked Absolute Alignment racer Chris Dear. Photos: Mick Palmer
he C1 Racing Club has become the fastest growing racing series in the UK for a long, long time. The inexpensive conversion of a simple, modern road car has opened up the endurance format to drivers who previously could only dream of having a crack at racing twice around the clock. Well over hundred cars have been converted in the first couple of years of racing, and it isn’t going to stop there. The addition of a 24-hour-race at Silverstone - featuring one hundred of the city cars - and an all new Scottish series based at Knockhill is a marker of how one of the most accessible forms of racing in the UK is growing, but what is the attraction, and realities of competing in a car that falls short of being able to hit 100mph on even the fastest circuits in the country? With a slightly blurred vision, MG racer Chris Dear of Absolute Alignment jumped feet first into the C1 Racing Club: “I was looking to do some endurance racing, or some more track time in some more modern cars,” he begins. “But no. Actually the honest answer is I was drunk watching Le Mans. I got on the 2CV website, got in contact with the guys who ran that and they mentioned that they were starting this new series with the C1, and it was right up my street. When I sobered up I bought a car off eBay and just ran with it.”
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E RACING ON A BUDGET?
Photo: Mick Palmer
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Photo: Mick Palmer While it isn’t advisable to plan your racing with a few cans as your collaborator, there was some sensible thinking among that alcohol induced haze. Chris said that the C1 is “A bit more of a modern car, and a bit more turn the key and go driving,” which is a little less stressful than the classics he raced before that where “Everything is on a very fine line between going bang or not!” The attraction, and the reason for the huge grids, begins with the ease of converting the car to the track spec. You can pick up a decent enough donor car for a grand, and for a couple of thousand pounds on top of that you have one of the cheapest race cars that are campaigned in the country. The endurance aspect has been a big attraction. A pair of round-theclock races last year at Rockingham saw a full grid, but the 24 hour race at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps was the jewel in the C1 crown. Add to that some domestic four and five hour races, some sprints and suddenly seasoned racers are interested. With Rockingham ceasing as a racing venue for 2019 the C1 Racing Club has lined up the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit as a replacement. Thankfully the exit of the Corby venue hasn’t been a death knell in the UK, where 24 hour racing isn’t
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the easiest venture to organise. The race will be a whopper with 110 places on the grid up for grabs. “I’ve seen something like 114 kits sold,” Chris says enthusiastically. “So there’s 114 cars out there. Whether we get to 110 cars is the million dollar question, who knows? There’s certainly been a lot of interest, even at Croft we had 40 cars on the grid for the actual endurance race. It’s totally unheard of in club motorsport to sell out the grids.”
“When I sobered up I bought a car off eBay and just ran with it.” Part of the beauty of the series, and part of the accessibility, is that with so many cars there are plenty of arrive and drive options available. It’s pulled in some names, and experienced drivers: “We’ve had the big touring car stars come in and British GT,” Chris continues. “They’re thinking they’re going to show us all the way home and how to do it and they haven’t because its a different technique to drive in these cars from say, a Porsche Carrera Cup car. Amusingly I was in with the Touring Car guys at Rockingham and Rob Austin came out of the car, threw me the keys and went - I think he’d
set a two minutes 18.6 - ‘Beat that Chris,’ I got in it, did two minutes 17.6, got out and went ‘beat that guys,’ and they didn’t get close to me for the rest of the day. If it’d had been in a Touring Car, they’d have whooped my arse!” There is a caveat for the arrive and drive contingent though: “There are a couple of big teams in it who build the cars, hire the cars and do it,” Chris says, “but the majority of the grid is still groups of mates doing it themselves, and none of the big teams have yet won a race, it’s all the self-prepared cars that have had the results. They know the machine. It’s very easy to build a car to run, it’s very hard to get one to run right at the front.” The long distance racing aspect does place the C1 apart from anything else in the country at club level. It’s easy to pick up a car and get it race ready, but that initial outlay is only a small part of the budget. Endurance racing will always take it’s toll, it will drain consumables, it will incur damage, and it will always have an administration cost that outstrips a standard race entry fee. Chris lays out some of the spend that is needed: “There is expense, because you’re doing longer races. We got through eight tyres at Croft, a set of brake pads, two or three tanks of fuel. A set of
Photo: Mick Palmer
Photo: Mick Palmer
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tyres might last half a season (in sprint racing) the tyres are only £55 each, but you’re still using £400 worth for a race, add to that £150 to £200 worth of fuel, £140 worth of brakes, before you even get to the damage, the entry price or anything else, add to that you’ve got general wear and tear. You’ve got to do an oil change after every race because you’ve revved the nuts off the car for hours, then you’re putting in £60 worth of oil. “It’s a cheap car to build in theory, but you end up doing the clutch after an event, the running costs spiral so you’re looking at £1,000 a race running costs, so, is that cheap? We’ve been at the front, so my car has had an £800 gearbox in it, where some other cars have ones that cost £150. Yes you can come and race, it’s cheap, but if you want to compete, it’s never cheap.” The one contentious subject that has arisen recently that has been brought to the fore has been car damage. Specifically damage related to behaviour on the circuit. The 24 hour event at Spa, shared with other European based C1 championships and the 2CV series, saw
Photo: Mick Palmer
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a number of cars making the trip back across the channel needing hefty repairs, or in the case of the Absolute Alignment car, needing to be binned. It has been a loud discussion with blame flying in all directions. It could give the impression that C1 racing became a destruction derby overnight in the Ardennes forest. Chris thinks that it is a distorted picture. C1 racing isn’t as cheap as it looks at first glance, but the excessive behaviour of a few has upped the cost, thanks to some ramrod offensive and defensive tactics.
“Yes you can come and race, it’s cheap, but if you want to compete, it’s never cheap.” “There has been a lot of bitching and moaning about driving standards.” he said in relation to battles that took place at Spa. “To be fair it’s no worse than any other series, but it could be better. I’ve done 160 hours in the car total, never touched anybody, never damaged anything. I lent my car to some guys at Spa and it was written off. It’s all down
to the drivers. Everybody’s got a steering wheel and a brake pedal. If you get to a corner and you think it’s your corner and the other guy thinks its his, and he closes the gap on you, you have to make the decision to brake and come out of it, but some people just think ‘I’m having him.’ You have to remember when you’ve got 40 or 50 cars on the track for 24 hours, the amount of opportunity for contact is so much greater than on a 20 minute sprint. “Like for like I don’t think it’s that bad, its just the guys who do get the damage shout a lot about it, and you wonder, could they have avoided the damage if they had maybe been a bit more experienced or a bit less enthusiastic? It’s a two way thing damage, you know? The cars are no cheaper to repair than anything else, they might be cheaper to build, when you have to pay labour charges, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Porsche or a Citroen. I’d say it’s the most expensive cheap motorsport you can do!” In all of that though, what are the cars like to drive? From the outside they look slow on the straights, but in the
Photo: Mick Palmer corners they can find lairy angles, and they lean... a lot. They understeer, they scrabble for grip, but they’re fun. They run well in packs and it is one of those series where the driver makes the difference. As you’d expect for a car you’d usually expect to see travelling at 55mph on the inside lane of the M1, overloaded with all manner of student belongings, they don’t rocket out of a corner, in fact on most British circuits you’d be lucky to top 95mph. From the inside Chris reckons it’s just business as usual: “You don’t feel it (the lean) from the car, it might look a bit crazy on the outside, but inside you’re just in a racing car, you just try to go faster than everybody else, I’m sure it looks a lot more outside.” If that sounds like a ragged way to treat a car for an endurance race, then it all changes with a new format trialled when the club raced at Croft. After a 75 minute qualifying session on the Saturday morning for the Sunday afternoon five hour race, some of the cars lined up for four 20 minute sprints. They were races that did not disappoint. For 2019 more sprints will be added, and the SMRC series
will adopt the format. “There’s a Scottish championship being launched as well,” Chris says. “Which is a sprint race series. There’s a lot of Northern guys who don’t come down to Snetterton, and likewise there’s a lot of guys who think it’s a long way to head up to Croft. It’s a good opportunity for single drivers to do more races. One of the things I’ve found a struggle is getting teammates to commit to every event to do four and five hour races.
“It might look a bit crazy on the outside but inside, you’re just in a racing car.” “The guys who were coming out of the sprint races said it was very different because they had a different mentality to the endurance race. It’s getting back to getting in the car and going for it and trying as hard as you can for 20 minutes rather than thinking we’ve got to last this for the next 24 hours. It would be a good way for more younger drivers in there first step into car racing to come and do it.”
That last subject, covering the future, shifts the conversation in a new direction, and opens up further possibilities for the series, and the cars. Could the C1 be a replacement for the Citroen Saxo that runs in the Junior Saloon Car Championship for drivers aged 14-17? “I’m amazed they haven’t done it to be honest. It seems like the next logical step. You know, you’re going racing in a one litre car, you’re not going into the wall at, well..... you know., let’s say it’s controllable. At Pembrey I had two junior drivers in with me stepping out of Super One Karting for their first ever car races, they were on the midfield pace, it was a good first step, they want to come and do more.” The C1 scene is going to grow in racing circles. In endurance terms at least, it will continue to provide a value for money experience. It could deliver a sprint only format, which really would be racing on the cheap, but for certain, whatever happens in the future of the category, the simple Citroen C1 will continue to lean, understeer and put smiles on faces.
Issue 1 Motor Racing UK 11
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10 Motor Racing UK Issue 4
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DERS HIS FUTURE AFTER A NTER IN HIS BELOVED BMW. A OF SERIES OUT THERE, CHOICE
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mer ck Pal i M : s Photo Issue 4 Motor Racing UK 11
COUPE CUP C The Korean sports car is hardly heralded as a classic drivers machine, but with a minimum amount of spend it can be an exciting prospect for those looking at getting on track. Rob Andrews looks at what it takes to get a car race ready.
Photo: Mick Palmer
t has been 22 years since the Hyundai Coupe first rolled off production lines at the Asan facility in South Korea. The release of the car was an attempt by the budget brand to appeal to a different market and to deliver a desirable, and affordable, sporty number. To market the machine to the world as an alternative to the likes of the Mazda MX 5, Hyundai wanted an appealing image, motorsport was thought to be the answer. The manufacturer attempted to emulate the success of fellow Asian company Subaru with an entry into the World Rally Championship. The route via the WRC Formula Two series backfired immediately. From the get-go it was obvious that the budget car had a budget backing and its budget development meant it was standing still. The decision to go down the Formula Two corridor backfired immediately. A budget programme for a budget sportscar was a turn off, for most that is. In the UK your Astra and Escort drivers were more likely to dream of upgrading to the recently released MGF, but there was a core of British motorists who were driving around with huge smiles on their faces knowing that they had MGF handling and performance, for less money than the mundane mid-range Ford and Vauxhall offerings that many refused to give up. The car was not a rocket ship, but it had a pleasing return on power. The two litre machine pumped out 140hp, could hit 60mph in just under eight seconds and topped out officially at 126mph, before the tuners got their hands on them. Those stats still donâ€™t really make you think of the car as an out and out racer though.
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Photos: Mick Palmer The Hyundai Coupe Cup has been an entertaining addition to the roster of series run by the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC.) Running as a cup instead of as a fully fledged championship it is now in its fourth season and is attracting sizeable grids. With a mixture of self build, turnkey and arrive and drive cars the racing has been close and entertaining. But what does it take to convert one to a race spec? The two-litre variant, with the exception of the special edition EVO model, forms the basis of the racer. With a quality donor vehicle being available for as low as £500, you could have a car on the grid for as little as £2,500. The BARC do an excellent job of scrutineering the cars. At every round you will see a cup car in the inspection bay being poured over. There isn’t a lot that you can fettle, but one area is the camshaft. The worry that cam regrinds or cams from the EVO engine could be
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used to gain a performance advantage has not reared its head yet, but keeping ahead of any potential problems is paramount to keeping the engines on a level playing field.
“With a quality donor vehicle being available for as low as £500, you could have a car on the grid for as little as £2,500.” The car must be fitted with a parts kit from an approved supplier. The standard roll cage is an easy fit, apart from some preparation welding it is essentially a bolt in device (and the only body stiffening component allowed.) Standard radiators are retained along with the exhaust, ignition, ECU and fuel system. The induction system is modified with a pipercross filter slotted into the stock airbox.
The series has an approved suspension supplier in AVO whose wares appear in the parts kit. The springs and dampers cannot be modified or rebuilt meaning that suspension set up is limited to the original manufacturer geometry. Wheelbase spacers are also a major no-no as and the control Toyo tyres have a very limited range of PSI differential. When it all adds up, the options for gaining an advantage through toe and caster are removed. The gearbox is the stock box from the two litre machine with its factory ratios intact. The flywheel is the OEM and the clutch is the standard setup, but there is choice in the input. It is allowed to change to a flappy paddle option. The brake discs are standard sized and plain, No cross drilled discs are allowed and factory shoes are required, but the pads must be provided by EBS from their excellent Blue Stuff range.
Photos: Mick Palmer Handbrakes must be to MOT levels and the ABS can be turned off. Most drivers do turn the ABS off to get that feel in their right foot where you can induce smoother transitions from turn - in to exit. There are very few choices to make when it comes to setting a Coupe Cup car up, the series is meant to be driver led and the mandatory kit is there to ensure parity and safety. Small adjustments to tracking is one of the few areas where the car can have its handling tuned, the other is weight. Running to a minimum of 1125kg (including driver and fuel) the car is, as you would expect, stripped on the inside. A spec race seat comes in the parts package and the dash must remain intact and the centre console around the gearstick. Cars with a sunroof must have a replacement panel installed and there is a long list of standard parts that can be removed.
The fitting of a standard touring car style rear wing is allowed, but a standard production spoiler can be run, the rest of the exterior is left alone. Once items such as air conditioning, central locking, heater systems and the like are shifted, the car comes in underweight.
“There are few choices when it comes to setting a car up, the series is driver led and the kit is there to ensure parity and safety.” Depending on the size of the driver there is the ability to use a small amount of ballast to meet the minimum weight, it isn’t unusual for that to be ignored and ballast placed around the car on a circuit by circuit basis to aid traction or to induce understeer. The only exception to the norm, and the only way to possibly gain an advantage is the inclusion of the X class.
It’s something that is about to be utilised as the series looks at developing the last generation Coupe that was produced from 2002 - 2008. Whether the eventual homologation will see the car run in its own class or have its own series is yet to be seen. The Coupe Cup has found itself carving a niche with close racing through the field and drivers climbing out after races with a smile on their face. The settling knowledge that repairs are cheap and parts are easily accessible has not led to a culture of door banging, unlike some other one make series for older machines. The simplicity of the regulations has allowed self-built cars to run as equals to turnkey machines built by the approved specialists. The ability to pick up a car and convert it for a relatively small amount, combined with the level playing field that the series was founded on, is leading the way in club racing. The Coupe Cup is a series that will grow and grow.
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IT'S FAR F
ariety is the spice of life they say. In motor racing terms that adage is perfectly displayed with a championship that can manage to fit a Mk 2 Fiesta, a Seat Leon TCR machine and a former V8 Supercars Ford Falcon onto the same grid. The Darlington and District Motor Club is in its 114th year and its leading exponent, the Northern Saloons and Sports Car Championship, stands as a totem to the friendly rivalry that the earliest forms of national motoring competition was founded upon. It is one of the most open series out there, and not just in terms of a class system that allows almost any car to join the field, but also in terms of how any face can fit. “I was only supposed to do this for two races, I’ve been here 12 years,” DDMC chairperson Lesley Starkey says as we sit down to talk about why the NSSCC has garnered a reputation for being one of the friendliest championships in the country. A raft of cars and people surround
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us. The lunchbreak hubub is vibrant. Drivers, marshals, mechanics, officials and family members surround a central meeting point in the centre of the NSSCC paddock. A converted van serves as the rallying point with its awning and table and chairs bursting with excited and jovial conversation. There is a real air of community as members prepare for their first qualifying session of the new season.
“Nobody thinks they’re better than anybody else, and it’s proven by the fact that we consistently get a good amount of registrations.” “We’ve put this unit on the road for the benefit of the club,” Lesley continues. “The Northern Sports and Saloons are quite diverse. We make sure that we get as many people as we can. It’s an eclectic mix of cars, and people to be fair.” The volume rises as the crowd begins to fire on all cylinders, tea and coffee is rousing the competitors and a fair amount of friendly ribbing is now in full flow.
There is no division between drivers. From those who pilot humdrum makes to those with the keys to some exotica, there is no elitism here. “Nobody’s more important than anybody else, just because you’ve got a flash car doesn’t mean that we’ll pander to you because we absolutely will not. There’s people here from all sorts of walks of life. Some people are running on an absolute shoestring, some have got plenty of money, but it doesn’t make a difference. I could probably go down the grid with you and say ‘he’s worth a few million,’ but if you walked down the grid you wouldn’t know. “Everybody helps everybody else. The whole point of the championship is to make sure we’re involved with each other as friends in the paddock, they’re severe rivals out on circuit mind you, but if they have a problem there is always someone who will say what do you need? Can I help? Nobody thinks they’re better than anybody else, and it’s proven by the fact that we consistently get a good amount of registrations.”
FROM GRIM UP NORTH The DDMC has built a reputation for being a slick organisation. Mick Palmer asked Chairperson Lesley Starkey why the Northern Saloon and Sportscar Championship is bursting at the seams.
Photo: Mick Palmer A cursory glance along the paddock reveals the size of the grid for the two day meeting. Seven classes are on display. Some are parked up while hot drinks are consumed and tales of winter testing are shared, others are being fired up with bonnets removed while oily hands fettle last minute tuning tasks. “It’s great for the first race of the season to get 32 on the grid,” Lesley states. “That’s pretty decent. We should have had 35 but three have had to drop out at the last minute. DDMC as a club make sure that when people have problems we make sure they get a refund so that they’re not out of pocket. It’s about being a proper clubmans championship and that it’s a club of people. You’ll see them stood around, they’re all chatting to each other, there’s no rivalry until they hit the track, it’s a decent club, I’m proud of it.” The championship might seem light of heart, and it could easily be misinterpreted as being a fun day out with a bit of motoring thrown in, but that’s far from the truth of it. The hard work behind the
scenes is what has allowed this racing community to thrive and grow. Lesley is the linchpin at the head of an organisation that is tightly run, and the NSSCC has built up a reputation of being a solid championship in terms of delivering a quality product. It simply doesn’t just happen by itself.
“We get invited to good meetings because of the fact that we turn a lot of cars out. They’re all good quality and the racing is good.” “Darlington buys it’s grid space,” she continues. “That means that anything to do with getting drivers on grids is down to me because I am the coordinator. Our carsports department produce the regs and the entry forms, I send them all out, take the registrations, monitor who is in which class to make sure that we’ve got eligibility scrutineers and people like that to help us. I’m responsible for making sure that there are as many cars on the grid as we can get. At the end of the day
we pay a lot of money for a grid so I need to make sure the club doesn’t lose money. Our break even point is usually about 25 cars, depending on who you’re dealing with. If you’re going to somewhere like Donington it’s as far as 30 cars for the break even point.” Despite it’s geographic centre being the North East, the club draws drivers from areas further afield. The obvious attraction of a well run championship and a spirited society means that regulars travel from Cheshire, Stirling, Edinburgh and Dundee. It isn’t just a case of turning up at the local track and having a blast. Although the majority of the racing takes place at Croft, it is often on the billing of other clubs. Add to that three away rounds for 2019 (Knockhill, Cadwell Park and Donington,) and that reputation for professionalism soon pays dividends. “We get invited to good meetings because of the fact that we turn a lot of cars out. They’re all good quality and the racing is good from start to finish. There’s
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Photo: Mick Palmer a battle going on all the way through the grid, and it’s good for people to watch. We get complimented on the fact that if we say we’re going to be down there 20 minutes before forming the grid, everybody will be there 25 beforehand, to make sure there’s no delays. We are aware when we’re at other people’s meetings that we can do something to help with these things, the competitors are all very, very respectful of that.” The club are also proud to have their own MSA licensed rescue unit that is available to support other clubs when not in use for a DDMC event. It is this level of commitment through the entire organisation that shines through. The club also, almost uniquely, organises it’s annual Battle of Britain meeting every August, an event that features motorcycle and side-car racing alongside the fourwheeled action. Trials for both cars and bikes, rallying and rallycross also feature as mainstays with the DDMC. For 2019 the club will also be making it’s way up to Knockhill where it is organising some rallycross at the Scottish venue. Also for 2019 is an additional meeting that they have organised over the weekend of May 18/19. “We used to always have a main meeting,” Lesley says. “Then running things got too expensive, but this year we’ve brought it back. We
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had the opportunity to get the Fun Cup, the Northern Saloons for four races, the MG Cockshoot cup some MX5 racing. We’ve also got SLS coming down from Scotland which will be pretty exciting. If we’re going to run a meeting we’re going to have good grids. There’s nothing worse, for a marshal particularly, to stand there with only three cars going past, it’s soul destroying.”
“With Northern Saloons you’re not going to see the same sort of grid mix anywhere with close races.” It is a meeting that will see Croft bursting at the seams with all of it’s paddocks full. For sports and saloon car fans in the northern half of the country it is a must on the calendar. The NSSCC itself will be a feature that is not to be missed, and the opportunity to get up close to the variety of cars competing is one that should be taken. The obvious cars in the limelight include the 7.2 litre Holden Monaro of Andy Wilson which faces off in the oldest of Australian rivalries against the ex-Craig Lowndes Ford Falcon of Andy Robinson. Examples of machines from Lotus, Caterham and Ginetta are always worth a bit of time pouring over along with the curious Suzuki of Neil
Claxton, a well known car in the world of super silhouettes. They sit at the tip of the iceberg. “With Northern Saloons you’re not going to see the same sort of grid mix anywhere with close races. With all of the drivers, if a member of the public comes along and asks about the car they’ll talk to them about it, or let the kids have a sit in it, there’s no edge to it, no ‘I’m a racing driver’ attitude. You’re going to see exciting racing, and you’ll see it from the start to the end. They’re a really, really good bunch of lads and lasses.” The NSSCC epitomises what club racing is about. It has the added bonus of being able to field almost any saloon or sports car, but it’s the fact that it oozes with passion all the way through that is the main attraction. Lesley Starkey and her team do a fantastic job in running a club that people want to be a part of. “It’s kind of a privileged job that not many people get the chance to do,” she closes with. “It’s hard work and you’ve got to do a thousand things at once, but it’s so worthwhile, it’s just so nice to help out. Like issues we had this morning over noise, you go and get that sorted and get guys out on the grid, that’s what I’m here for. We are pretty strict on following the rules but we never have cross words with drivers, it’s really good humoured.”
Photo: Mick Palmer
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wo wins for Adam Balon and Phil Keen at Snetterton saw Barwell Motorsport emerge from the Norfolk track with its two driver pairings sitting comfortably at the top of the British GT championship. With the four season opening onehour sprint races in the bag an interesting in-house rivalry could be rising as Jonny Cocker and Sam De Haan build on their Oulton Park victory. The pairing followed Balon and Keen home in race two, despite the #72 car being hit with a time penalty as a result of their race one victory. Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt sit in third place after a rough weekend where their JRM Racing Bentley Continental GT3 crossed the line in both races with heavy damage. The former champions currently have 37 points to their name - which is already 30 behind De Haan/Cocker and 43 behind the lead Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo of Balon and Keen. In the opening stint of race one Balon shadowed three Silver Cup cars with some impressive lap times and built a solid foundation that Keen could take advantage of when his stint came later in the race. Tom Gamble (in for Adrian Willmott at Century) placed the BMW M6 on
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pole position but his lead away from the line only lasted until Wilson where De Haan nudged him wide and allowed Glynn Geddie in the Team Parker Racing Bentley to take the lead. Optimum driver Oliver Wilkinson put the Aston Martin Vantage into third and tried to put pressure on the leaders while keeping Balon at bay. Geddie built a convincing lead and when the pitstop window arrived his hard work was undone as Team Parker turned the car around at a slower than expected pace. Reigning GT4 champion Jack Mitchell (hopping into the seat vacated by Gamble) took the point of the field and initially managed to resist an aggressive Keen. Maladies in the electrical system of the Century BMW gave Keen the chance to nip past and take the lead which he converted into a convincing win for the pair. Optimum saw their place in the lap charts drop as the result of making a pitstop that was below the minimum time. Bradley Ellis was hamstrung and it meant that Ryan Ratcliffe (who had replaced Geddie) was able to take the position. The Balfe McLaren of Rob Bell, the TF Sport Aston of Jonny Adam, Morris
and Cocker circled in unison while closing up to Ratcliffe. The McLaren suffered a puncture and Morris was able to slip past into third. On the last lap Morris had a go for second but hit a GT4 car and dropped to fifth, parking the JRM car (below) just beyond the start line, allowing Adam and Cocker past once again. For race two a 10 second success penalty for Keen and Balon made no inroads to their combined pace. Keen was locked onto the tail of Nicki Thiim who had secured pole for TF Sport. The pair were in close company in the early stages as the pitstops that would see the
ROUND 3 & 4 - SNETTERTON
BALON KEEN ON DOUBLING UP
Photos: Mick Palmer
pro drivers exit approached. The ten second penalty was the difference when the driver pairings swapped positions. Mark Farmer (replacing Thiim) was that far up the road from Balon when the one-to-one battle resumed. The Lamborghini of Balon was soon joined by De Haan who - in a repeat of his performance at Oulton Park - was putting in some blinding laps. The pair hooked up and attacked the Aston for the lead. Balon took the spot with nine laps to go and was able to pull away. Any real chance that De Haan had in challenging
for the win was scuttled by a two lap delay in trying to find a way past. With seven laps to run the #69 Barwell Lamborghini attempted to claw back the deficit, but the gap was too much and Balon was determined to take the first double win in the series for just over two years. Shaun Balfe and Bell overcame the fraught start to their season to bring the McLaren 720s GT3 across the line for its first British GT finish and its first podium. Farmer and Thiim were classified fourth with teammates Adam and Graham Davidson coming home fifth.
Photos: Mick Palmer
LATE ARRIVAL STELLAR TAKE VICTORY AT FIRST ATTEMPT
Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding delivered the perfect result for the delayed Audi R8 LMS GT4 with a win first time out at Snetterton for Steller Performance. The car has spent the last season in GT4 trim since homologation tasting success elsewhere, but the entry of the car into the British GT Championship has seen the series boast its widest variation of marques with nine represented. The car had hardly turned a wheel with only a couple of test sessions under its belt before it took second in class in qualifying. Williams and Fielding were able to carry that pace over into race one where it topped the Tolman Motorsports McLaren 570s of James Dorlin and Josh Smith by just over three-and-a-half seconds. The day was soured for Stellar slightly after race two where the car was disqualified for a tech problem. Tolman went one better in the second encounter as Jordan Collard and Lewis Proctor dominated proceedings, crossing the line ahead of the TF Sport Aston Martin of Tom Canning and Ashley Hand. Scott Malvern and Nick Jones looked like they had a decent shot at victory in the Team Parker MercedesAMG GT4 but a puncture ended their challenge. Dean MacDonald and Callum Pointon lead the championship after a fourth in class in race one followed by third in class in the second event.
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A selection of features from Motor Racing UK magazine.