• Saxon’s Spa Weekend / SAXON MOTORSPORT / #BMW-N57 / #N57 / #BMW-1-Series / #BMW / #BMW-E87 / #BMW-E87-N57 / #Saxon-Motorsport / #BMW-E87-Saxon-Motorsport / #N57-Saxon-Motorsport / #2016

    After enjoying itself at the Nürburgring it was time for Saxon to visit the iconic Spa circuit where it would run its awesome 680bhp 5.8-litre V10 1 Series in the Dutch Supercar Challenge.

    Spa Francorchamps, Belgium: Eau Rouge, Les Combes, Stavelot, Blanchemont, La Source – famous landmarks on a classic circuit, which were all wet from early morning rain. Having been unloaded the previous evening, Cotswold Saxon’s 5.8-litre V10 1 Series, packing 680hp, was waiting in garage 12. Its two drivers, team owner Nick Barrow and fellow Herefordian Richard Corbett, were eager to explore the car’s potential on one of the most iconic strips of Tarmac in Europe…

    The first practice (FP1) for the Dutch Supercar Challenge sponsored by Pirelli, part of the weekend’s Spa Racing Festival, was due to start at 11:50am so there was plenty of time for the car to be fuelled, fitted with Pirelli tyres for the first time, and for the drivers’ nerves to build up!

    Before this, however, the team had gathered at its Hereford base in the early hours of Thursday morning and departed for the Port of Dover with two HGV drivers (one being chief engineer Jon Taylor) and one additional engineer. The rest of the team, this time including new recruit Martyn Goodwin, Chairman of Cotswold BMW Car Club, travelled by car. Martyn had joined the team to keep an eye on proceedings at the Silverstone 24-Hour race in the spring and had been keen to be a part of a race weekend ever since.

    Saxon was pleased to be able take him along to Spa and test his resolve to play his part in the team! The journey through Belgium had already proven eventful when the truck crew discovered, at the cost of a hefty fine, that all HGVs travelling through Belgium – and many other European countries – now need to have purchased a ‘tag’ or ‘vignette’ which is effectively an electronic toll system. Other teams with HGVs over 3.5 tons beware!

    Back at the track side, Pirelli’s wet tyres were fitted before FP1. Not having run its cars on these tyres previously, it was accepted that part of the weekend would be given over to finding the best setup for both track and tyres. However, having to run on wet tyres when the remainder of the weekend was expected to be dry was not helpful towards race setup. Nevertheless both drivers needed track-time on a circuit that only Nick had ever raced previously. FP2, starting at 3:15pm, was more beneficial for Jon and engineers Mike and George to fine-tune the car as tyre wear characteristics became apparent around the seven kilometre circuit. Various minor camber changes and associated alignment adjustments were made as temperatures and wear rates across the width of the tread were monitored.

    As the race car had performed without fault during both sessions, the team’s technicians and engineers spent Friday evening and Saturday morning checking alignment and reducing the ride-height as much as possible. Whilst the elevation changes around the Spa circuit take everyone by surprise – the hills and inclines being much steeper than evident on the TV or on PC games – the surface is notably smoother than the Tarmac at the Nürburgring with its violent bumps and hollows, especially around Carousel. The V10, in 5.0-litre form, had last run at the ’Ring and so could be set much lower to the surface for Spa to lower the centre of gravity and increase aero grip.

    Saturday qualifying for the GT class in which Saxon was entered saw Nick venture out first at 10:50am for what was expected to be a 20-minute session. Moments after the session began the team noticed that the TV screens were indicating that the GT and Sports sessions had apparently been combined in a damp 50-minute session. Fortunately, rather than bring Nick in and wait for a dry period, it was decided to let him stay out for a ‘banker’ lap as the screens soon reverted to a 20-minute session which could easily have caught out the team and compromised Nick’s qualifying laps.

    Saturday’s one-hour race saw the Cotswold Saxon car lined-up in eleventh position on the grid following Nick’s damp early qualifying lap, Richard having used the minimal time available simply to record additional track time. A good start and the power of the V10 enabled Nick to gain a few places under acceleration during the early laps of his first stint before Richard took over for the last 30 minutes in eighth place.

    Despite recording an impressive top speed of 169mph on the Kemmel straight between the famous Eau Rouge/Raidillon corners and Les Combes, a tap from the rear through Eau Rouge put paid to any further challenge to the top order.

    Both drivers returned to the pit garage after their driving stints exhilarated and thrilled with the performance of the car and looking forward to more from the 90-minute race the next day. Unfortunately the schedule of the Dutch Supercar series does mean a lot of downtime between races and a meeting spread over three days. However, the drivers agreed that the stretched timetable – compared to one fourhour race at the ‘Ring, – had its compensations when a 680hp race car was involved.

    Sunday’s second race, at 2:10pm, was to follow a similar pattern to race one, albeit with Richard starting and Nick taking up the challenge for the final 45 minutes. This time, however, full-course yellow flags for over 20 minutes of the 90-minute race due to numerous incidents and accidents prevented as much pure racing as either driver was looking forward to from taking place. The car again performed well, and its drivers, too, considering it was the team’s first outing at Spa and the first run on the specified Pirelli tyres. The car finished the weekend in eighth position overall, acquitting itself and its drivers well against the established Dutch Supercar competitors.

    The next day, on the journey home, thoughts in both the team car and truck turned to off-season wish-lists and workload. In addition to the soon-to-arrive double-plate clutch and the associated software mapping to minimise stress on the Drenth gearbox on upshifts, the team is looking at ways to further reduce ride-height for traditional circuit racing. This will involve devising a way to lower the front ride height without interfering with the rear of the headlights, which are the next obstacles which the tyres would encounter!

    Jon is also anxious to fit a larger oil cooler to give a greater margin for temperatures during warmer summer events where the ambient temperature may have a greater effect on cooling. Readers will know that packing components under the bonnet of the V10 is ‘intimate’ to say the least, so this may well involve a complete redesign of the packaging of all radiator and cooling components over the winter. For the team’s endurance racer, Nick has ambitions of extracting 500hp from the N57 3.0-litre diesel for next year’s Silverstone and Nürburgring 24-Hour races. Discussions are ongoing between Nick and Jon as to the best way of achieving the target, but watch this space. Meanwhile, the third chassis, used by Martin, Ellis and Tom Barrow in the VLN series to achieve their qualification for the Nürburgring 24-Hour race and currently fitted with the 2.0-litre diesel engine could be for sale, depending on driver enquiries, for next season. Then there’s work on Neoraids’ rally raid X5 in Poland – so it should be a busy winter for the Saxon team.