- The Highs and Lows of Motor Racing. It’s been a busy month for the Saxon team with both the high and low points coming at the Silverstone 24-Hour race.
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This 24-Hour race really had everything; there were brilliant drives, some excellent spanner action, typical Northamptonshire spring weather and some seemingly dubious late rule changes. To say the Saxon team went through the mill would be something of an understatement.
Things started pretty well with a solid testing performance on the Thursday before the race weekend and progressed in a similar vein on Friday with a good showing by the Cotswold #BMW Groupsponsored 135d in free practice, which was watched very closely by competitors and race organisers alike. Despite the rules for the event having been put in place months before the race weekend Saxon Motorsport was informed after the practice session that the team would no longer be allowed to take onboard 100 litres of diesel at each pit stop but that the quantity was being reduced to 80 litres. In addition, the Balance of Performance rules were being adjusted so that the minimum allowable lap time of 2min 18sec was being increased by one second. This had the effect of negating the diesel-powered 135d’s economy advantage by introducing a possible additional four pit stops during the race and also limiting the ability to regain lost time.
Team owner, Nick Barrow, and team manager, Clare Lee, were involved in a heated discussion with the race organisers who were not penalising the petrol-powered cars in the class to the same extent. Eventually, agreement was reached so that the 2min 19sec minimum lap time would stand and the fuel allowance would be increased slightly to 90 litres. The team and drivers were disappointed to have the potential for their highly developed diesel-engined race car so severely curtailed before the event had even started. It was almost akin to two teams showing up for a football match and one team being told their goal was to be 50 per cent larger!
Despite the shifting goalposts the team was determined to work within the new limits and prove the quality of the race car built by chief engineer, Jon Taylor. Qualifying proved the ability of the car when Dave Robinson put in two laps, each of which would have placed the car seventh on the grid, much as anticipated by the team.
Race day dawned bright and sunny and the team was made aware that three of the cars that had qualified ahead of them on the starting grid had been penalised for technical infringements so Saxon would start in fourth place. Dave elected to start the race and was soon challenging the cars ahead.
As the afternoon and early evening wore on, the car led the race for some 19 laps before the weather intervened and further reduced the car’s competitiveness as in the slippery conditions other cars were able to more closely match the lower fuel consumption of the Saxon 135d.
Drama then struck during Dave’s second stint at around 1:10am when the gearbox developed a fault and became stuck in first gear. Saxon’s team of mechanics carried out a swift and impressive gearbox change (along with a new set of rear brake pads) and the car was returned to the track after 40 minutes, having dropped to 23rd position from seventh prior to the breakdown.
The rain and wet track conditions continued throughout the hours of darkness, with Nick and Neil Primrose struggling to gain places. However, towards the end of Neil’s dawn stint, light started to show at the end of the tunnel as the rain eased and daylight began to break. As Dave’s early morning session began, lap times began to fall and car number 117 started to set fastest sector and lap times lap after lap. Bringing the car in for a driver change at 8.58am, Dave had literally driven the tread off the wet tyres but the track had still not dried completely and those on slicks were still not faster than the 135d. However, after a further six laps, Clint Bardwell decided that the time had come to change to slick tyres and immediately showed the choice to have been timed to perfection by continuing to set fastest sector times all around the track.
At this stage, the team was rapidly rising through positions 17 to 12 and continued to climb as the excitement mounted. Nick and Neil maintained the push hard with a sixth place finish well in their sights, with Dave again scheduled to be at the helm for the final stint. But disaster struck at 2:45pm – just oneand- a-quarter hours from the chequered flag; Neil reported a sudden loss of power on the back straight and drove the car into the pits for Jon to diagnose a faulty turbocharger resulting in an early end of the race for Saxon!
The team and supporters who had begun to gather in the pit garage in anticipation of the final battle for places were heartbroken. The car and team had proven capable of competing with the best cars entered, having been the fastest throughout dry daylight hours and in different circumstances could well have triumphed. Instead the team were left to pack up and head back to Hereford, imagining what might have been but at the same time looking forward to the next opportunity to prove themselves in the knowledge that so much more is achievable. Post-Silverstone technical update The modifications that the team made prior to the Silverstone race to speed up the pit stops worked well, enabling them to carry out a driver change, complete with four wheel changes and a drinks bottle refill all within about 50 seconds.
However, more improvement is being sought before the next round with an overall pit stop target time of 30 seconds being the aim. The limiting element now is the wheel changing, whereas before Silverstone it was the driver change and drinks bottle refill. The new system for providing water for the drivers (whereby the mechanic on the left rear attaches a full bottle to the dry break connector fitted into the left rear door) worked well. Fears that he would forget to remove it after he had finished changing the wheel and the car would leave with the fill bottle attached proved unfounded. However, there was a minor problem with operation of the system in the car as when the on-board bottle was full and the driver braked he got a rather unexpected jet of water in the face! The team are confident that this will be cured before their Nürburgring race.
The wheel changing had been considerably improved for Silverstone by eliminating the need for torquing the wheel nuts individually, but the next most time-consuming part is putting the five wheel nuts back on when the new wheel is fitted. The team is now working on a way of securing a set of wheel nuts on the wheel that is about to be fitted so that they are in place and ready to be tightened as the wheel is put on.
The modified N57 engine that the team used at Silverstone has now been fully-stripped. Although this wouldn’t normally be Saxon’s practice after one race, this engine featured several new developments that hadn’t been tried before. It was therefore considered expedient to examine everything to be sure no problems were developing.
In particular, Jon wanted to examine the new oil pump that he had fitted into the sump. This was stripped along with its pipework and everything checked out well. The newly supplied crankshaft from Arrow Precision Engineering had completed its first race distance at Silverstone and so the team wanted to ensure that nothing was showing signs of premature wear. The only issue spotted here was some wear marks on the side of the main bearing shells; this does not appear to be a serious concern but the cause needs to be investigated by the team and Arrow before the next race. In addition, the team had not been entirely happy with the surface finish on the top of the block and the cylinder head so these have been remachined before reassembly to ensure the best possible seal for the head gasket.
On one occasion during the Silverstone race a ‘low battery voltage’ dash board alarm had been noticed by one driver warning but once cancelled didn’t appear again. After the race Jon started to investigate what could have caused this and eventually found that a connector between a switch panel on the dash board and the main loom had been overheating and looked as if it could fail imminently. This has now been sent to the loom manufacturer to have a higherrated connector fitted.
Changing focus for the season
Preparations are now in full swing for the next confirmed outing at the Nürburgring over the weekend of 26-29 May. Those following the Saxon team will know that the intention was to run Italian driver Luca Demarci in the hybrid LPG/diesel car in GT Cup races this year but due to unforeseen budget issues, Luca has had to withdraw from the series at present. This means that the team’s focus is on the Creventic Series of endurance races for road-based cars such as the BMW 1 Series – the Hankook sponsored Touring Car Endurance Series – under the same regulations as the Silverstone race.
In addition to these races at Slovakia-ring in June and Meppen, northern Germany, Barcelona and Paul Ricard later in the year, Nick is planning to visit the VLN Series at the famous Nürburgring. “Our V10 petrol-engined car is being prepared for a couple of trips to Germany,” he says. “Having raced many times at the ‘Ring in sprint and endurance races, I know that this car will be a formidable tool on that track and can’t wait to give it a try.” Like the diesel endurance car, the V10 will be liveried in Cotswold BMW colours in recognition of its sponsorship and support. The VLN Series consists of ten rounds of four- to six-hour races throughout the year and the team is well acquainted with the track, having run there with many class wins since 2012.
Nick previously ran this car in Britcar last year, proving its competitiveness and now he wants to prove its durability. The team hope to combine these races with qualifying races for two new drivers who raced with the team at the final Britcar race at Donington last season; Martin Gibson and Ellis Hadley acquitted themselves well in the team’s Cotswold BMW-sponsored 3.0-litre diesel in only their first competitive outing in the car and have embarked on the road to qualifying for the #2017 #Nurburgring 24-Hour race. This will involve a series of sprint races in a 2.0-litre car before they can enter the endurance race. “We are happy to fit a 2.0-litre engine to one of our cars to enable them to qualify with us,” said Jon. “We know the car will be competitive there and they’ve proved to be good drivers and team members so we wish them well trying to qualify.”