July 23rd & August 13th/14th 2016 - Oulton & Donington
Following the early season issues, the Saker arrived at Oulton for the test day with a brand new Motec ECU, a new wiring loom, all the broken bits mended and an extensive upgrade to the cooling systems. The car gets on well with Oulton Park and the re-map for the new ECU delivered smooth power around the twisty circuit. The lap times started to fall and a comparison with last year’s practice, we were a full 4 seconds quicker. Air temps were still high, but manageable and handling changes were carried out to the car to make it more responsive all round. At the end of the test day, the car was polished, covered up and put to bed, ready for the race day.
The weather on Saturday was great – dry, sunny but not too hot. The Saker was where we had left it and we went out for Free Practice. The car started as we had left off, but half way in the car started to misfire and suffered a power drop. Despite this, when the car came back in we were still upbeat as we had put the problem down to fuel starvation, however on closer inspection the real reason was discovered – the engine had thrown a shim. The immediate reaction was one of despair, especially after the effort that had gone into the car. The times that came back from the other teams in the race itself gave some encouragement as we could see that we would have been on the pace, but our gremlins continued to plague us.
On to Donington. Once again a full test day was booked before the race weekend and once again the repaired Saker performed well. It ran all day with no problems and our times (before the tyres disintegrated totally) were comparable with the teams in our class.
Saturday Free Practice went without any dramatic problems. The car continued to get faster, the fresh rubber giving that extra grip in the drying conditions, and the set up changes we had made to the car had improved its turn in, especially in the tighter, slower corners. David Brise had been giving continual feedback on the car’s set up and Woody and his team had been able to incorporate these ‘tweaks’ that make such a difference to getting the car to go faster.
Qualifying didn’t go quite as planned. Despite the high hopes for the car, the top end power was slightly off and at the end of the session we had qualified last on the grid – the first time that has ever happened. I couldn’t explain it – I had been driving as hard as I could, but evidently getting nowhere. So, off came the back of the car and 20 minutes later the problem was identified – a temperature sensor to the turbo had broken and the new, hi-tech ECU had decided to turn down the engine power to save the engine!
At the start of the race – immediately in front of me was a Porsche GT3, McLaren 650S and a couple of Aston Martin GT4’s. We knew from FP that we were quicker than the Astons, but first I had to get in front of the McLaren. It took until the second lap to achieve than and then the Astons were dispatched on the next 2 laps. All was looking good and the Saker was racing! We were probably a little too far behind the mid-pack at this stage but we gave it a good go, recording a 1:41, but there was clearly something wrong with the car. During the formation lap it had started making a pretty awful noise and this continued to get worse as the race progressed. At the end I was hanging on to position, just managing to keep ahead of the 2 Astons who had reeled me in over the course of the second half of the race, and only a mad-dash lunge for the line enabled the Saker to keep the hard won overtakes made in the first half of the race.
So, what had happened? Back off, engine disassembled – and the engine had thrown another shim! It turned out that this had happened at the start of the formation lap, but the engine had soldiered on, despite destroying the camshaft in the process. This is what led to the gradual dropping off of power and the struggle to maintain position at
the end. For the full race see:
Bitter sweet really – we had got the car to race and it had shown that it was competitive and that there was still room to improve, yet the issues that had overshadowed the entire season hadn’t been totally sorted out, even it great steps forward had been made.
The car is currently undergoing a total overhaul and it is our intention to test in October and race once more this year, at Brands Hatch in November. I will keep you posted.