- SAXON MOTORSPORT TESTING TIMES
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Lots of work to do before the Silverstone 24-hour race. Saxon Motorsport has been busy readying its cars for the Silverstone 24-hour race and it’s hoping all its hard work will pay dividends come race day. It’s been a busy time for the Saxon team, prepping the car in anticipation of the Hankook Silverstone 24-hour race and since we last reported on the team’s progress its been busy stripping and rebuilding, ironing out problems and generally trying to test the BMW-1-Series to the limit.
First up was a test at Silverstone to try out some of the changes the team had made and four of Saxon’s scheduled drivers were in attendance on a freezing cold morning at the Northamptonshire circuit. The day did not start well. With Neil Primrose, Clint Bardwell and Tom Barrow waiting eagerly in the pits, Nick Barrow ventured out first and it became apparent that not only does the new N57 engine produce more power, it also produces significantly more noise – resulting in an early black flag!
Fortunately the team had anticipated this as being a potential problem and some exhaust modifications were hurriedly fitted. Noise metering then confirmed that the new exhaust met the stringent limits in force for the race and testing resumed.
As it was particularly cold, probably the coldest conditions in which the car has ever run, a pre-heater was in use to heat the engine. This worked well and enabled the car to start easily. However, when the car ventured on to the track for its first run the smell of oil indicated that the gearbox oil was not up to temperature and back pressure from the oil cooler had caused it to split! The cooler was duly replaced and the day progressed well from there.
Towards the end of the test some suspension changes were made to the rear of the car which the drivers agreed greatly improved the rear-end grip and traction. With the back end sorted, attention turned to the front suspension with various adjustments and settings providing good data, which will result in a new anti-roll bar in time for the Silverstone race. Once back at base the car was stripped and rebuilt almost in its entirety prior to the Hankook 24-hour Silverstone event at the beginning of April. All of the suspension, gearbox and differential have been stripped to component parts and rebuilt whilst the brake discs and pads will be replaced after a practice run, ready for the race start.
The oil surge issue previously documented has been resolved in the test engine with redesigned pick-ups and this unit has now been removed from the car complete with all its ancillaries to act as a fully tested spare. The race engine is as prepared as it’s possible to be without a crankshaft! This N57 unit is currently ready and sitting on the benches in the workshop waiting for the new crankshafts to arrive from Arrow. As soon as they arrive they will be taken together with pistons, con rods and the flywheel for balancing with the engine being rebuilt, installed and tested on Saxon’s own rolling road.
Providing static tests prove successful, the team will have track-tested the race car on Easter Monday or Tuesday before leaving for Silverstone on Wednesday. It’s all a bit last minute and not at all how Saxon would normally plan a race preparation but unfortunately the late delivery of the crankshafts left the team with no choice.
With preparation work being continued by chief engineer Jon Taylor, Saxon team owner Nick Barrow’s attention turned to other areas of performance where time can be gained over a 24-hour race. Detailed analysis of pit stops up to the Barcelona 24-hour Creventic-run event last year indicated that an average Saxon pit stop to change tyres and drivers meant that the car was stationary for up to a minute; in contrast, some of the top competitors were only losing half that time. The Creventic Series rules allow each driver to remain on track for up to two hours; this would result in a total of 11 pit stops during a 24-hour race. However tyre wear at Barcelona necessitated 15 stops, so risking the loss of a total of over seven minutes additional stationary time – more than three laps over a race! It used to be the case in endurance racing that stationary time wasn’t too important – this was very much a test of reliability rather than outright speed. These days there are always a few cars which have no problems and complete the distance – therefore it tends to be a flat-out race for 24 hours!
As the Saxon diesel-powered car is capable of running for up to three hours before refuelling, tyre wear is the major factor in determining the number of pit stops; this can only be decided after final practice for the event when tyre wear has been assessed. As well as the number of stops, Saxon has been working on reducing time spent on each pit stop by looking at ways to speed up tyre/wheel changing, recharging drivers’ drinks and easier methods of seat belt fastening.
The rules dictate that only four mechanics can work on the car whilst stationary – one on each corner – and Saxon recognised that too much of their time was being taken up hand-torquing each wheel nut after the wheel/tyre is fitted. After testing half a dozen systems, the team has now adopted a combination of new components to allow selected nut guns to achieve the same reliable result automatically. This has speeded up the mechanics’ work but it’s to no advantage if they are finished and the driver still isn’t ready to go! One driver has to vacate the car with their replacement getting in, being belted securely in place and connecting the radio set and drinks supply.
Until now, all of this needed a combination of the two drivers and a mechanic; to eliminate the mechanic and simplify the procedure, Nick has changed the type of seat belt used to enable the drivers to fasten them themselves and developed his own method of springing the belts out of the way once they are unfastened, allowing the new driver to get in without moving the belts. The radio and drink connectors have also been modified so that the drivers can now connect them themselves without relying on any outside assistance.
Another time-consuming task for the drivers was to fill the in-car drinks bottle, delaying their entry into the car. This unexpected problem has now been solved by using an external dry-break connection so that the mechanic working on the left rear corner has a stainless steel bottle containing the top-up fluid. This is simply plugged into the connector, automatically refilling the internal container whilst he is changing the wheel. The mechanic will then hopefully remember to remove the empty canister before the car moves off!
By the time this issue goes to print, all Saxon’s theories and work will have been tried and tested over 24-hours at Silverstone with the results hopefully justifying all of this intensive race preparation!
Above: New connector for drinks bottle should make pit stops quicker; new pistons and con rods; chief engineer, Jon.
3.0-litre turbo diesel unit will act as a spare; Below: Testing at SIlverstone; Far left: Looking good in the new livery.