(an article in the Constructors Car Club magazine "Spare Parts" some time in 2007)
The Port Road Sprints came up in February and I keenly put in my entry form. The course for this event is laid out in the industrial area alongside Port Road in Seaview, Lower Hutt. It is a 2km long track that ducks and dives round side-streets and back alleys. It includes a figure 8 and a 180 degree U turn around an oil drum in the middle of Port Road. It is basically a series of sprints between 90 degree corners with an average "straight" length of only 150m. Set in this "abandoned" industrial area, with broken kerbs, stacked industrial detritus, rubbish skips and other junk as props the event has a post-apocalyptic air about it. There are even little knots of refugee homies hanging out on the street corners (I believe they might have been flag marshals and spectators). Basically, this event was much like a sealed surface motorkhana, but using more gears. The course has little room for error so a conservative approach seemed advisable. I enjoyed the experience a lot and improved my times as the day progressed. In my last run I took about two seconds off my previous best time mostly by getting into third gear more and building more speed before braking. There was one straight which I found a bit disconcerting because the marshals were sitting in deck chairs at the end of the straight, directly in the gun sights. Each time I went down this straight I found myself thinking.. where do I go to avoid these folks if I find nothing under the middle pedal in about one second's time. But it all worked out OK, and pretty much everyone had a great time. I'm never going to be competitive in these circles, but even so.. at the end of the day I was 22nd out of 32 starters, so I wasn't last either. Club members Colin Young and Richard Kelly were also there and did much better than me.. Richard not by much actually, as a result of his best runs spoiled by spins.
Dodging the Kerbs at Port Road
Then in April the Harbour Capital Car Club held dual car sprints at Manfeild and I entered those. This was a bit of an adventure with other cars on the track and if not exactly racing, one doesn't want the other guy spoiling your chance at a good lap time. These sprints were run with bunches of 6 or 8 cars starting in pairs from a standing start, and then doing 3 timed laps. Since most of the slower (like me) cars are front wheel drive I found that the RoadRat could generally get to the first corner quicker than cars with lap times several seconds faster than mine, and then it was a matter of seeing how long it would be before they came steaming past. The day was very well organized and well run, and it had the same friendly atmosphere that always seems to happen at Manfeild on track days and other similar events. I guess it can be a bit depressing if your car breaks, but other than that It must be pretty hard not to have a good time at these events. My best lap time was 1:33.. which was 26th overall amongst the 41 starters. I guess I would have liked to have done a bit better. One trouble I was having was that I was getting understeer coming out of corners, and this was inhibiting getting the power on early. Pushing down the throttle makes the car go straight ahead, which was a shame as the Rat has good torque and it is a shame not to be able to use it out of the tight corners. To some extent this could be corrected by just putting in an extra half turn of the steering wheel... but this felt very risky so I flagged that option.
At the hairpin during the HCCC dual car sprints, April 2007
The next event was a (sort of) sealed surface autocross at Todd Park. This is the car park for the old car factory at Porirua. The surface is decayed tarmac with lots of pot holes and loose gravel. This seemed to be the perfect surface for the RoadRat and I was able to avoid the cones all day and in a final run that took the Road Rat sideways over the finish line I got a time that earned a 4th overall in a field of 34, ahead of all sorts of name brand gear. Mind you.. this is the sort of event where some folks run their "disposable" car, rather than their "serious" car. Still.. another great day, and it's nice to be able to do this motorsport without having to get up at 6:00am and traipse half the way to Turangi for it.
Next up was Alexandra Road. As a Wellington Cockney (I am uncomfortable without my passport if I travel along the Hutt Road), for me, along with Palmer Head and Shelly Bay this is just one of those iconic events that I never thought I would ever be able to take part in.. But I just did! Truly an excellent experience. Lots of interesting cars there and a nice bit of curvy road to rip the car up. Grant Roberson came down from Palmerston North for the event. Other club members involved included Dave Beazer who unfortunately drove into a now well publicized tree. Definitely not much fun for Dave, but for most of everyone else, a great day. Dave's incident held up proceedings for a while and with the large field, we didn't get as many runs in as was hoped for.. this might have been a good thing, as it stopped others from also running into trees and falling down the bank etc. So there is a better chance of holding the event again next year I reckon. The course itself is pretty straight forward with one interesting corner called "the dipper" which is where all the spectators gather to cheer the contenders who don't get it quite right in an entertaining fashion. I took this one too slow out of caution, and could have picked up some time here with another run or two. This is very obvious on the youtube video. Also.. I wish I had some better gear ratios. I could really use another gear between 3rd and 4th. Overall I was 40th out of the 58 entrants who completed an official timed run. Not too shabby. Grant was 42nd and Dave would have been a couple of places ahead of us judging by his practice time and if the tree magnet hadn't been inadvertently actuated.
Dave's Car after the off
Well... enough history for now. I'll write a Part 3 some time and hopefully catch up to real time. Meanwhile I have made an anti-sway bar for the rear of the RoadRat to try to improve the corner exiting. This has helped the cornering (good).. but added complexity to the car (bad). I have also been suffering from too much piston ring blow by. The pressure in the crankcase builds up so it pushes oil out of every place it can.. particularly the "front" bearing where VW doesn't have a proper oil seal. So this was making a mess of everything.. and oil was getting on the rear tyres to the extent that at the intermarque the rear end was taking off on the first corner exiting the pit lane. So I have fitted some new pistons and cylinders. Easy to say, and very cheap at about $300 for the set... but days and days of work. So many parts to unscrew and so hard to find them all again when time comes to put it all back together. But, touch wood, that's done now and I plan to make it to Wendy's day at the Slipway and, most importantly, the next Port Road sprints on labour day weekend Sunday.
Putting the Engine back together
Next.. I must consider better tyres. I read that track tyres have 20% more grip than road tyres. That's 20% more speed round corners. I must get some. I am embarrassed to say I'm still running the same tyres I built the car with 10 years ago. They are now totally passed their use-by date and as hard as the hobs of hell. Some sort of record, three engines later and still using the same tyres.
To be continued...
Youtube and other vids featuring the 'Rat: links
Racing The Rat Part 3
Racing The Rat Part 1