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Letter To The Editor, Early June 2018, On Historic Racing & Familiar Faces

A day in the sunshine at Brands Hatch with some old friends of both mechanical and human varieties!

In the second of an occasional series, former DSC editor Malcolm Cracknell keeps the current editor up to date on what he’s thinking about current endurance racing – and other things.

Dear Graham

My second letter was planned for after Le Mans, but thanks to your kindness in getting me to Brands Hatch last weekend, here are my thoughts on a fantastic day out.

Billed as The Masters Historic Festival, founder Ron Maydon admitted to being a touch disappointed with the entry for the two headline events, the Masters Endurance Legends and the Historic Formula One Championship, but I thoroughly enjoyed both of Sunday’s main races. The entry lists for some of the other races were bountiful: I spotted a Formula 2 Brabham with D. BELL’s name on it, but was too busy catching up with our kinds of racers to investigate further. Incidentally, I gather a near neighbour here in Northiam was racing one of his TVRs in the Gentlemen Drivers event, but I haven’t sought him out, yet.

Talking of near neighbours, it was wonderful to meet up with Iain Macbeth. He, like us, couldn’t miss this meeting. It turns out that he lives not a million miles from here at Headcorn: and you used to work with him at TFL? What a small world. Some readers may not know that Iain has been part of Corvette Racing’s refuelling team at Le Mans for years. He’s been part of some fabulous victories in the 24 Hours, and will be earnestly seeking another one very shortly, especially after what happened last June. If you can take a day off work on June 22, Iain, do you fancy a post Le Mans natter and lunch with myself and two like-minded fellows, both of whom I suspect you know?

So, an Endurance Legends grid featuring two Le Mans Peugeots? Wow! Nigel Greensall was following David Porter’s 908 in Saturday’s race and observed a potentially nasty incident on the approach to Hawthorn’s. The Peugeot struck the barrier on the outside, but came away with nothing more than a broken splitter. As Nic Minassian explained (above with Malc) “they’re built like tanks!”. We won’t go into the ins and outs of that incident, but suffice to say that the other car came away considerably worse for wear and didn’t start Sunday’s race.

Rui Aguas drove the 908X on Sunday, and drove it beautifully. But a long pitstop (under the series rules) for this beast meant that he returned to the track behind Steve Tandy in the ex-Dyson Racing Lola B12/60 Mazda. What a lovely car that is. Tandy’s best lap was a 1:21.111, within 1.7 seconds of the winning Peugeot’s best. Second place was thoroughly deserved.

But what about that early dice between old DSC mates Martin Short and Nigel Greensall? I see that Nigel’s in-car footage has caused considerable interest on Facebook and DSC. What we didn’t know at the time was that Shorty was suffering with overheating rear brakes. When he made his mandatory stop, Luke and the crew blanked off some of the cooling for the fronts, to try and find some balance front to rear, “but that meant that I had overheating brakes all round,” explained Shorty. “I think we must have fitted some qualifying discs by mistake.”

It’s fascinating to see how a Dallara Judd and an ex-Wayne Taylor R&S can be made to tackle the Grand Prix track. The KATECH-built V8 in the R&S sounded fantastic as Nigel warmed it up prior to the race, but when Shorty gave his Judd V10 the full beans, the ‘music’ was picked up magnificently on Nigel’s in-car. The Dallara shot away up the straights but the Riley caught it up under braking – and attacked the kerbs aggressively too.

Did you spot Nigel taking his unique line into Druids? It was lovely to be in the right spot (watching from the back of the pits) when Shorty was slightly delayed by Pierre Bruneau’s Pilbeam, and was “mugged” by Nigel round the outside of Surtees.

“I really enjoyed the race,” sums up the evergreen Greensall. “It was great fun dicing with Martin and lovely to show how fast the Riley is.”

Both cars – in fact, the whole field – performed superbly. Martin referred to the Dallara as his “pension”, while the R&S is owned by American Rick Carlino. If you search for Rick’s name on the web you should easily find some images of some of his previous race cars – with him racing them.

I was intrigued when Rick told me that he had owned a GROPA and a Hesketh – because my pal Bob Curl designed and made the GROPA bodywork (the cars, at least 20 of them, were based on a Chevron B8 chassis), and made the bodywork for the Heskeths. Rick has also owned (and raced) the red and white (FLAME OUT) Surtees TS9-B that I saw Tim Schenken race in the British GP in 1972.

Rick’s R&S is currently for sale, but Nigel Greensall is hoping that a new owner will let him carry on racing it. Incidentally, Nigel came out with a statement on Sunday that I never thought I’d hear: “I know someone who wants to buy a Daytona Prototype.” I suggested a Crawford, as it is easily the best looking of that breed. Nigel is at VIR this week, driving a Radical. Oh, the life of an in-demand racing driver…

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Rick Carlino’s R&S is run over here by Aaron Scott’s preparation company. I hope Aaron gets a chance to race at Le Mans – and was sorry not to get a chance to catch up with him on Sunday.

The same comment applies to Mike Smith. I got the shock of my life to be confronted by someone I haven’t seen for 22 years! I was too surprised to think to ask him what he’s been up to for nearly a quarter of a century. Back in 1996, I was starting out as a motorsport journalist, covering the British GT Championship – and Mike turned up at Snetterton with a Westfield V8, partnered by none other than the dear departed Tony Lanfranchi. Andy Dawson and his two sons were running the yellow beast, but there’s a sad component to that sentence…

“Yes, that was a mistake, thinking we could run that as a GT car,” summed up Mike.

Tony Lanfranchi offered to put on a show for me at Russell that day, getting the tail out through the final corner. Sadly, my photography didn’t do justice to his efforts…

Fortunately, Graham, you did find out what Mike’s been doing ‘recently’… He’s worked overseas extensively, but has raced a Chevron in the CER series, also Radical SR8s and an RX Spyder, some Historic F2s, in the Caterham European Championship and campaigned a Porsche and an Escort in the Tour Britannia. He owns all three Ligier LMP3s run by RLR Motorsport: team owner Nick Reynolds prepped Mike’s Caterhams back in the day. He was at Brands with the ex SMP Racing Oreca he now owns and it was raced with some distinction to class wins for Alex Kapadia and Martin Rich.

And then, Graham, you found that 1996 Westfield piece on the web! I believe you’re going to attach it at the foot of this column. “A bit cheesey”, as Mulsanne Mike said of some of his early writing efforts.

I’ll come back to the Masters Endurance Legends at the end of this letter.

Question: what is the most over-used word, by the media, in the English language? Answer: iconic. I can’t stand it! I watched the Historic F1s at Monaco recently, and everything was bloody well iconic. The iconic track, the iconic cars, the iconic drivers… It’s just lazy journalism, isn’t it?

Monaco clearly has more pulling power than Brands Hatch, so the F1s were down in numbers in Kent: Stuart Hall was part of the show in Monaco, in a couple of the ROFGO McLarens, and I loved seeing a 1970 312B Ferrari – my favourite F1 car of all time. It bounced off an M14 McLaren (and the barrier) into Mirabeau, but fortunately wasn’t seriously damaged.

Nick Padmore was a star in the Principality – and was again at Brands. The sight of him, in a Williams FW07C, chasing Martin Stretton in a non-ground effect Tyrrell 012, through Paddock, was special. Stretton was stabbing away at the throttle in delightful style – and looking as though he would probably hang on for a close win. Then there was a kerfuffle into Druids, and the race sadly ended under the Safety Car.

The F1s were all Cosworth powered, but the Endurance Legends were displaying a lovely variety of power plants. The AER in Mike Furness’s Courage was a wonderful reminder of times past, the Lola Mazda sounded superb – while the Peugeot diesels just went WHOOSH!

David Porter’s best lap (1:22.980) in his Peugeot was only three and a half seconds slower than Rui Aguas’ best lap, which I thought was a good effort from an ‘old-un’. As you’ll know, there’s a track test of one of the Chamberlain-Synergy Peugeots in this month’s MOTOR SPORT, and it’s a very good read.

Let’s finish by catching up with Bob Berridge – who is delighted to announce that he recently married bride number four, “and Brands Hatch was our honeymoon!”

The 908 tested by MOTOR SPORT is chassis 09, a winner at Sebring and Petit Le Mans. The power and torque figures for this car are very, very impressive (730 bhp and 890 lb ft). However, the car that Rui Aguas raced on Sunday “has all the bells and whistles. It’s the 908X development car that Peugeot was running at Sebring when they pulled the plug on the whole programme. It’s the ultimate 908.”

Bob was as impressed as I was with the way David Porter drove the other car at Brands: this is chassis 10, which won at Silverstone in ’09, as a factory car, and at Sebring in 2010, when ORECA ran it.

Bob Berridge explains that “Peugeot are keen to see the cars racing” and he’s delighted with the way his team of six at Chamberlain-Synergy are turning them out. They added immensely to the show at Brands Hatch. Get to Silverstone next month if you can – although in the confines of the Kent track, where fans can get close to the action, the appeal was arguably greater.

Incidentally, one of my monthly lunch pals (a group of us, all with a racing connection) is Paul Sleman, who was one of Bob’s racing rivals long ago. Bob still remembers Paul’s legendary car control.

I hope your two trips to Le Mans go well. I’ll be watching and listening.

Crackers out.

That 1996 Westfield SEight Piece in full!

The Westfield SEight, An Article from SportsCar World

Is it the cars or the drivers that are more important to the success of the Privilege Insurance GT Series? When planning this story, I chose to look at a particularly interesting new car, but inevitably the three individuals behind its development managed to shed some light on their own unique way of going motor racing.

The build of the Westfield SEight was completed by March of this year, but for various reasons, it didn’t make its first appearance until the Donington meeting at the end of April. It was there that I first met Mike Smith, but hardly in ideal circumstances. It was immediately after first practice, and the car was being loaded onto a trailer to be returned to base after a very fraught introduction to the series for the whole team. The car hadn’t been tested at all, and Mike had found himself on a busy track with a box full of neutrals. He was desperate to get out of the way of Ian Flux, on a hot lap in the McLaren, but couldn’t find a gear. Fortunately, Flux locked everything up and avoided a collision, but the team decided there and then to stay away from the races until the car was really ready.

It’s taken the DAD Motorsport team until now to reach that stage, but they have made so much progress with the car that its proper debut at Snetterton was nothing short of sensational. Mike Smith commissioned Andy Dawson of DAD Motorsport to build the car as a relatively economical way to create a machine with enormous performance for the GT Series. The team are quite happy to admit that the project isn’t top of their list of priorities, Mike and co-driver Tony Lanfranchi are both very busy during the week doing other things – and they have no desire to spend huge sums of money on what is really their hobby. Nevertheless, the car has been built to a top class standard, and with a few test sessions behind them, they now possess a car to threaten not only the other GT3 entries, but the whole field.

Obviously based on the road going SEight, the car boasts the following statistics;

  • 659kg all up weight
  • JE Developments Rover based V8 installed as a stressed member
  • 390bhp
  • 160mph typical maximum speed
  • 190mph absolute maximum speed
  • Cd of at least 0.5
  • Maximum width the same as the road car (1.7m)
  • Andy Dawson designed twin wishbone front suspension
  • Cost to build a replica £60 000

The problem at Donington was traced to an installation fault, which was solely a matter of lack of preparation time. Since then, the team have managed three test sessions, during which they have solved several problems which are typical of any new car. A lack of cooling simply involved fitting a larger radiator. A transmission problem has been cured in the short term by fitting a four speed gearbox and the diff. from a diesel Sierra, the only way to create gearing anywhere near long enough with four speeds. An engine oil leak hasn’t yet been fixed, it only leaks in the car at racing speeds, and may be caused by the engine being installed as a stressed unit. The team’s third test, at Silverstone, only lasted for eight laps, as the engine was only firing on four cylinders. Nevertheless, during the testing they have managed, Mike and Tony have discovered that the car handles amazingly well, thanks to Andy Dawson’s skill as a designer and builder. The only change they have made to the suspension has been to add half a degree of negative camber to the rear. The drivers are, “staggered at how well it handles.”

Everyone connected with the team is delighted with the stage they have now reached, and they plan to enter the last three races of this year’s championship, with a view to being really ready for next season. However, if the engine blows at any time during these meetings, that will be that until next year. The budget just doesn’t cover major expenses such as a complete engine rebuild.

Large Toilet Rolls Are Presumably Needed By The Westfield Drivers

During Saturday’s test sessions at Snetterton, the team started to demonstrate the ultimate potential of this extraordinary car. During the morning, Tony managed a 1:14.2 and Mike a 1:16.5, at a time when the supercars of the series, such as the Renault and the McLaren, were struggling to get down to 1:10.

Mike At Speed During Saturday Practice

The afternoon sessions revealed a minor clutch problem, which made gear selection difficult, and then the engine lapsed onto seven cylinders, but Tony still managed a 1:13.5 – on old tyres. Andy Dawson felt that with new tyres, the drivers could perhaps get down to a 1.11 during official practice. The engine was still leaking oil into the V, but it was only losing negligible amounts, so the team were not unduly worried about it.

During first practice, Tony nearly proved Andy right by producing a 1:12.35, despite the engine cutting out completely on the back straight (see race report). A much more serious problem became apparent during second practice. The car was handling so well that the cornering forces it was generating caused the near side upper wishbone mounting to break away from the chassis. Most teams would have packed up and gone home at this point, but not DAD Motorsport. Andy got out the MIG welder and proceeded to weld the suspension mounting back on! Mike Smith looked decidedly concerned about having to drive the car in this condition, but the team manager had no doubt at all that the repair was strong enough.

Andy Dawson Welds The Wishbone Mounting During Sunday’s Lunch Break

Despite these teething problems, the car qualified eighth fastest and quickest in GT3. There were inevitably quite a few mutterings about the car’s legality from along the pit-lane, but the SEight was built to the exact wording of the regulations, so there was no doubt that it was legal. By the end of the race, it would be the rest of the entry that would fall foul of the regs.

Tony Conserves His Energy Before The Race

For the full story of the Westfield’s maiden race, see the Snetterton report. To summarise events, Tony started the race, with the intention of completing the full 45 minutes on his own if he wasn’t too tired (I think Mike was still worried about that wishbone mounting). He was initially an excellent eighth (just behind the TVR) and at one point was an incredible fourth during the pit-stop sequence.

He pressed on despite one front mudguard flapping around. This was removed during his one minute pit-stop, but the other one fell off on the Senna Straight. Something, probably a stone, then punctured the oil radiator, and most of the lubricant leaked out, some of it onto the left hand exhaust manifold. Tony left a huge trail of smoke in his wake, and even spun on his own oil, but still brought the car home in a provisional sixth place, second in GT3.

“No, I’ll Start The Race. You Take Over When My Hair’s Gone Completely White.”

While the other finishers were noise tested in parc ferme, the Westfield wasn’t because its oil tank was virtually empty. Being a quiet car, it would have passed if tested at any other time during the meeting. When seven cars were excluded from the results, the Westfield was classified third, which may even become second depending on the Cirtek Marcos team’s appeal to the RACMSA.

I was obviously delighted to have the opportunity to follow the DAD team during such an eventful weekend. From the two drivers and Andy Dawson, down to Andy’s two sons, the whole team were extremely co-operative and helpful during the two days. But how on earth are they going to follow this at Oulton Park on September 28?

Copyright ©1996 Malcolm Cracknell SPORTSCAR WORLD