10 Months on… the 2020 Season finally starts

June 28, 2020
Storming Camel

So as impossible as it seems it’s been 10 months since we sat in Storming Camel #3 and for a good 4 of those we were pretty happy about that.  Our last outing was at the 750MC Club Enduro event last August on the Silverstone International circuit.  And it was a shocking day; probably the worst day’s racing since I blew the engine on the E36 many years ago….

After 2-days of testing last summer we turned up confident and raring to go.  By the time we got the qualifying results that was all gone.  The race was a disaster; we were racing cars in the class below us and we weren’t even able to get away from them.  The Class B leader lapped us at least twice and probably 3 times and we had more contact in one race than the previous 6 years put together.  One incident even resulted in Nik being called to the Clerk of the Course’s office although quickly released with no action required.  As a final insult at the end of the day a gust of wind took one of the lightweight doors on the car and ripped it off it’s hinges.  We left Silverstone tired, disappointed and wondering what to do next.

After the race we called of the rest if the season as there was simply no point in competing as we were.  The plan was to get some big jobs completed over the winter and the regroup in the New Year.  Little were we to know that COVID-19 was just around the corner to crush our plans.

The winter rebuild work went ahead.  The contact from the Silverstone race had damaged the steering column and it had to be replaced.  There were also a number of cosmetic tidy-ups needed and a new splitter fitted at the same time.  Then it was on to the big jobs.

The one area of the car that we hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to was the LSD, and after the strange handling going into the Village corner at Silverstone it was time to spend some time looking at it.  We’d heard from other owners of 130’s from the one-make series that they’d had some serious issues with their diffs’ so we were optimistic we’d find some issues that would help us with the handling.  The diff was completely stripped and rebuilt and a number of issues corrected.  I’m not even going to try and explain them here – suffice to say it involved ramp angles and they were changed….

The other big job for the winter was the braking system.  In our old E36 the AP Racing brakes would pull your face off under your helmet; they were immense.  We’d never got even close to the same braking power in the 130i despite the all round BMW M-Sport Performance brakes.  Hit them with more than a breath of pressure and they’d instantly lock all 4-wheels, trashing a set of tyres and potentially taking us off the circuit.  

It really affected our driving style as had to brake early and gently and lost us a lot of time.  In one video from a chasing car we saw it make up at least 5 car lengths on the entry to Stowe corner – an absolute nightmare given we weren’t exactly powering out of the corners either!

So a solution was needed.  Nik was in favour of removing the brake servo completely but then the legend that is Geoff Steel stepped in.  With something we think was from the aerospace industry he came up with an adjustable pressure valve so we could either have full, no or some servo assistance.

Finally – this week we came out of lockdown and was able to get back on track.  We headed to Donington Park with 10 months out of the car and a bunch of new parts to test out.

Nik took the first round of sighting laps with the brake servo completely disabled through the pressure valve. Thank #### it was just low speed sighting laps and after 1.5 laps Nik was already thanking Geoff for not letting him permanently remove the servo.  With every bit of pressure he could put through my right foot he was slowing down at a rate of about 10mph every couple of seconds!  Completely unusable!

After the sighting laps were over and the track went live Carlo headed up – full of caution and with a partially open valve.  When he didn’t come straight back in our optimism levels started rising and as he started attacking the run into Redgate with increasingly late braking and confidence it continued.  When he eventually came back in it seemed we had a braking solution that worked at last.

For completeness we sent him back out with the servo fully engaged and he came back quickly and confirmed the wheels were locking again – so the adjustable valve did appear to be doing it’s magic.

With confidence high we wouldn’t be locking any more tyres on went a new set of Nankangs and we went out to try and get to grips with the new handling and see what the   reconfigured diff was doing for us.  We also had another tame racing driver with us – Jamie Callender.  

As well as being the Grove family mechanic Jamie’s an ARDS instructor and will be racing with us in Club Enduro in Class B in a Boxster this year.  As an independent assessor with no knowledge of the car’s previous dramatics we let Jamie loose to see what he could do with the car and what feedback he might be able to give us.  In the end there wasn’t much in it with about a second covering all 3 of us but with all of us saying we could go faster still.  

The final test of the day looked at the rear wing.  We’d long sensed it wasn’t doing much for us and with what can only be described as a ‘chicken-wire’ assembly it seemed it was there for decoration rather than any real downforce.  

Once the brakes, the diff and general handling had been assessed it was time to take the wing off.  With Carlo drawing the short straw for the brake testing it was Nik’s turn to test how stable the car would be through the steep, off camber Craner Curves.  

Anecdotally the car seemed a tiny bit looser without the wing but there didn’t seem to be much in it.  Carlo and Jamie’s subsequent runs concluded much the same and some of the data indicated a 7mph increase through Redgate and generally faster acceleration.   With no obvious downside and some potential upside – certainly the fastest laps of the day were without the wing – it remains off…..for now…

Looking at the data at the end of the day it was clear to see we’d dropped over 5 seconds per lap during the course of the day.   On top of where we were at the same time in 2019 that’s probably close to 10 seconds per lap faster.  As we’ve not run competitively on the Donington National circuit we haven’t got any comparisons on where other cars in Class B would be but we’re definitely more confident we can now stop, turn and accelerate better than last year.

We left Donington at the end of the day absolutely happy with the progress that was made and, for the first time since we bought the car, quietly confident that we can make some inroads into the Class B pack this year.  A great job by Geoff, Will and Rob from Geoff Steel Racing…Gents I think we’ve got a platform that works!

Ironically the first race of our season will be back at the Silverstone International circuit – the scene of last years ignominious performance so we’ll have an immediate benchmark to compare with.

Bring on the 23rd August….and until then…back to the diet and some training!

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