Tag Archives: track day

A trip to the Nurburgring, and virginity lost

Error code 10 on a Vauxhall Insignia is a hard one to pin down. A quick google doesn’t turn up much and a bit of off tangent clicking can get you into all sorts of dark corners of the internet (bookmarks updated) although I am sure that there are a few of you reading this from the Vauxhall community either yelling at your screens or emailing me the answer. Continue reading



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Wow! It’s a Peugeot Focus 318i RS VXR!

I’m very rarely surprised these days, I seem to have contracted a  state of mind that has grown over my psyche, encompassing it in a hard shell of cynicism and grudging acceptance. Sex, violence and swearing on TV hardly raise an eyebrow, but I remember back in the 1980’s when Channel 4 tried to advise the viewer that their late night movie might contain a flash of breast or the odd profanity, by putting a little red triangle in the upper corner of the screen. You can imagine how the ratings soared when that little symbol flashed up. Continue reading

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Restoration, a stupid idea

A good mate of mine has just bought himself a new toy. He parted with quite a few of his hard earned pounds for something to have some fun in, a tweeked Peugeot 106 Rallye. It has a tuned engine, a weird differential and suspension that makes it go on three wheels at every corner. Surprisingly he has had it for a fortnight and has traveled less than 50 miles in it.

Now this is how you work on cars...

You see, as soon as he got the thing home, before the engine could stop its ticking cooldown after the, let’s be honest, enjoyable-with-spirit drive from its former owner, he had the spanners out and was taking the thing to bits. A phone call later and another friend arrives with an angle grinder and more spanners and set about pulling whatever he could out of it. This includes seats, trim, carpets, and even the rear wiper. Brackets, bolts and bits of the wiring loom that are no longer needed succumb to the grinder and manical eye of the new bloke, until we are left with a box with two seats and an engine that is capable of pulling it all along at a speed that would make most sane people faint. This car is so empty and light that it has to be kept tied to the house on windy days.

Why do all of this to a perfectly good, functional car, that’s already a light, nimble, sporty model as good as Peugeot could make it? Apart from the obvious power to weight gains, this car becomes his. There will never be another like it, and the car will be used to its full potential which suits my friend very well as driving on the edge round tracks is what he loves best. Curious about this, I asked ‘What if you crash it?’ Theres quite a lot of cash tied up in this, and I realise  its relative, but money is money! ‘Meh’ he shrugged his shoulders ‘Then we fix it’

Emptier than a hermits address book

All of this got me thinking. There is a guy who also has a little Peugeot that he has as a project, and again its being stripped and fiddled with but this time its being done to such a standard that makes OCD look normal. Every nut and bolt is polished or painted. Custom made, bloody expensive wiring looms make everything neat, the paintwork is perfect on all surfaces, including the engine bay. The whole thing somewhere stopped being a car, and become a very expensive work of art. The guy is obviously getting a huge amount of pleasure from this but I wonder how long lived that pleasure will be? Car restorers are similar people. Here are a bunch of guys that trawl autojumbles and Ebay to find the exact toolkit to finish their 1961 Mini Cooper, that has been restored exactly how it was when it rolled off of the production line. I’m not sure about these types of people. For one, this perfect Pug will be great until it rains, or someone bumps it in a carpark or a seagull craps on it.

These things can be avoided if he chooses never to take it out and keep it under a sheet in the garage like those dreadfully boring blokes who buy Ferrari’s do, and whats the point of that? What about that restored Mini? Dull I’m afraid, whats the point of spending a years salary to make something the same as everything else that came out of that factory? If you go to a classic car show, you will see rows and rows of the same restored marque but your eye will be caught by the loony that decided to make a monster truck out of a Mk2 Jag. My old VW is great, It has dings, dents and scratches but It has one thing a sterile ‘perfect’ show car doesn’t have and thats character.

If my mate bins the car at a track, I bet that if the damage isnt life threatening to the car, he would beat it out with a hammer and then spend the next two years telling everyone the story of how the power caught him out on that nasty hairpin at some track somewhere in Europe, and then, probably with a beer or coffee in hand, they will crowd around it and offer opinion and ridicule in bucketloads, probably from the bloke with the grinder.

Telling someone your showcar once got pooped on by a seabird is just dull, wear your dents with pride.


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Welcome back to Motoring!

Some of the more awake of my readers will have noticed that this is the first blog entry for quite some time. I thought of writing a long and deep explanation and grovelly apology, but wisely thought the better of it. Instead ill bring you right up to date whats been going on since December, and where we are now.

Rusty, clapped out cars have been fact of life for all of us, me especially (you will remember with hilarity the speed at which Honda threw me out of their showroom last year) So with the close of 2009 bringing the MOT on the Civic to stark reality I had to decide what to do. Patch the rust? Hope to God the bushes hold up, or MOT man has a bout of blindness? Spend more on it? Or scrap it and spend the repair money on something with more ticket? I see the sagely nods of you who have been faced with a similar situation. Well the decision was put off as a good friend of mine happened to have the exact same car for sale, but a few years older, that had an extra 5 months of MOT on it and was practically giving it away. The women out there are now saying “But that’s just putting the problem off for 5 months…” and yes you are right but I am a bloke and of course I don’t think like that.

Money changes hands and I am in possesion of a new Civic, much like the old one but even rustier as I found out when I pulled the sideskirts off to search for a creaking noise. Quickly putting them back on I felt more confident as I couldn’t see the rot. A bit of tax and we are off! Yes! motoring heaven!

Well no, not really. The car is in need of several mechanical repairs, having clicky CV joints is a bit like playing russian

Now, THATS what I call RUST!

Remember, rust is lighter than Carbon Fibre

roulette every corner, you never know when its going to pop and you are going to walk home. Then there was the cambelt… the car shows 175,000 miles and there is no record of it being changed. This is like playing Russian roulette with two guns, you get to walk and the engine gets mangled if it fails.
All this paints a gloomy picture. No fun corners, no whiffs of lift off oversteer, no nothing. Only the fear that the car will explode like a clowns, right in the middle of the high street. Then the rear wheelbearing started to fail…

So why the hell did I not throw money at it and fix it? The answer comes from the wife (!?) She says that if I can make it last, we can save some cash for something ‘newer’ and ‘nicer’ and (worryingly) ‘family’ (Subaru Forester is an estate car I told her…) So she duly does some hours, delivers some babies and earns the money, while I flick through Autotrader and fail to make money from any of my writing.

At this point it has to be said that you really shouldn’t ask one of your best mates, who happens to be a huge petrolhead, to come over and ‘Help me find something’ because all you end up doing is looking at one silver Astra, then spend the rest of the night drinking coffee and looking at track cars on pistonheads.com. (was great fun though!)
We are now about 6 weeks or so away from having the money, and I have sort of settled on a Suzuki Wagon R, I like its Japaneseness, its small and its cheap to run. It ticks the boxes of low mileage, newish and reasonably practical. Comfortable too and space enough for kids and stuff for the beach so we are on a winner! I am a little worried about its total lack or performance, and even more so the reports that it tends to understeer rather than go round bends, but hey a bit of suspension work and a degree or so of camber will fix that! Then for no reason whatsoever, I find myself on the VW Polo forum.

I have always loved Volkswagens, one of my first cars was an old 1968 Beetle, a 6 volter with a massive 1200cc aircooled engine that made you choose between lights and wipers if it rained at night. But it had something that I have not found in any other car. Character. But character is no substitute for power and excitement, the Mk1 Golf had that covered, but was way out of reach of my meager teenage funds. Flicking idly through the forums ‘for sale’ section I stumble across what at first looks like a Mk1 Golf in white, but turns out to be a Mk2 Polo, I am about to move on, when I notice that its had some subtle modifications carried out by the owner. Out goes the Polo’s engine and in goes a fully rebuilt unit from a Mk3 Golf, then its head is ported and polished, has a nice twin choke Weber bolted on, the cam is reprofiled and an adjustable vernier pulley added. Flywheel is lightened and the bottom end is balanced. All this ups the power from 50hp to a 90hp and adds a nice big dollop of torque (the car weighs about 700kg) Underneath the wheels are kept on the road with some nice Eibach springs and adjustable dampers.
All of this makes a subtle and nippy little car that’s totally wrong for me as it’s not new, has a hard ride, won’t fit the kids very well and is pretty crap on fuel.

Of course I bought it straight away.

I have now had it for about two weeks and have drained most of Kuwait of its oil reserves, its absolutely brilliant to drive and I’m finding excuses to go buy milk on an hourly basis. Being an old Volkswagen it smells bad inside, but has the advantage of being reliable and well-built (unlike the new ones) It’s terrible on fuel, if pushed I get 35mpg, which means a very gentle trip to the Nurburgring or I will be filling up every 6 feet.

The moral? If you are fed up, for god sake buy something fun! Regular blogging has now resumed, its great to be back, I feel a rant coming on.

For those interested, here are some specifications of my new Polo:

Engine: Fully rebuilt 1391cc ABD, balanced bottom end, CR raised, ported and polished head, Kent Cams cam, 2G inlet, Weber DMTL carburettor, K&N rudebox, Facet fuel pump, 8P gearbox

Suspension: Koni Adjustable Dampers, Eibach 40mm springs, supersport lowering top caps.

Brakes: VWII calipers, 239 Brembo MAX disks, Pagid TQ pads.

You wouldn’t belive it to look at it eh?

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The Air Facts


Years ago, accessories for cars were limited to what you could bolt or stick on.

Some of the more memorable and comical ones have disappeared, who can forget that rubber stick that used to hang down from the back of every Ford Cortina to stop static electrical shocks everytime you touched anything vaguely metallic. Removing the vinyl seats and nylon trousers would have been more effective, my Dad tells me that it also cured travel sickness too, but I think that was a ruse to stop me throwing up all over his Beige Estate. What about those blue or green plastic stick on sunstrips, remember them? There was never a more informed time on who was driving the car (Gaz) and who his current girl was (Shaz, Mand, Tray, Sheil etc…)

Car accessories are huge business and always will be, as innovative marketing men come up with new and better ways to part us from our hard earned cash, and we will be more than happy to part with it too as some of the population have more love for their cars than they do people (I have to admit I am teetering on that group ) If its yours and you have had to pay for it, your car becomes very personal to you and you want to do the best for it, and make it your own. Some go to extremes and add comedy bodykits, spoilers and huge stereo’s to their poor car in the view to becoming unique and a one off, but they end up looking like everyone else. The middle lot will do it subtlety, maybe just a set of alloys and a de badge but there once again it fades to obscurity. But at least they have tried, the very worst lot is the people who see their cars as tools and don’t care a jot what colour it is. So with all the glue on, bolt on, tie on and weld on items in your local shop how on earth can they possibly get more cash out of your pocket?

The answer is simple. Years ago, F1, rally, touring cars and the like were in some ways showcases for ordinary cars. If you went and watched touring cars back in the 60’s and 70’s you could see cars rubbing the paint of eachother as they hurled round Paddock Bend, the same cars that you could walk in to any showroom and buy. Rally was better, you could grab yourself a nice RS Escort that you had just watched pelting round a forest in Wales and drive it round your housing estate in Doncaster. It would have a more powerful engine and suspension lifted from the rally car. F1 was said to develop technologies that would be bred in to the car you bought at the showroom. But we are all grown up now and don’t belive a word of it, and besides the cars on the Touring car and Rally circuits are light years from what we can get our hands on these days. But F1 can still sell us stuff.

The Nissan GTR R35 is an amazing thing. Hand built and matched engines and gearboxes, sloshing over in computers, four wheel this and active steer that, oh and its got Nitrogen in its tyres, just like a race car! (or a jumbo jet) Now there is probably a very good reason to put Nitrogen in the tyres of a race car, holding pressure under extreme variations of heat is one, being inert and therefore not a fire risk is another. If you buy a GTR and use it to go to the shops everyday, which is totally your choice and the car will happily do it, it’s a Nissan after all. The risk of a tyre fire or low pressures causing you to spin off at that nasty corner in Sainsbury’s car park is quite small. But the GTR was born to be used on the track, it’s well known that the GPS inside it disables the electronic nanny that restricts this that and the other when it detects its on a track, and all hell breaks loose.


However (Yep, here it comes) There are companies out there that will happily fill the tyres of whatever you decide to drive on their ramps with Nitrogen, and be very happy to charge you for it. So there you are, your 1986 Mk2 Fiesta, tyres filled with Nitro, ready to take on the cut and thrust of the M25, safe in the knowledge that the pressures wont change, and they won’t ignite. The clever lot you are will no doubt be shouting at the screen now, and saying ‘Yeah! but the bloody local garage has charged us 20p to use the airline for years, and besides one 20p is never enough because it always cuts out just as you reach the last wheel! so what?’ I can accept a charge of 20 (or 40!) pence to cover the costs of maintaining and running costs of the airline, and even better (so a little O level science and a bit of Googleing tells me) the air thats squeezed into the tyres from the humble bicycle pump, through the Halfords foot pump, up to the lofty heights of the forecourt airline is 70% nitrogen. Indeed, the air you are breathing now is 70% Nitrogen, the stuff in my Civics tyres are 70% Nitrogen and i squirted that in all by myself for nothing.

Now I am not arguing that Nitrogen filled tyres are a bad or good thing, Ill show you some quotes for and against at the end of the blog, but what irritates me is that some tyre companies (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) Will charge  for it and people will pay through the nose for it because of marketing, not because it will make the car run better. Still, it makes for a good debate over a few pints, personally I think that filling your tyres with Helium would be a better idea, it’s inert and would make your wheels lighter than air.

Here’s a quote from the Kwik-fit website

“Filling your tyres with nitrogen may seem odd but that’s exactly what motor sport and aviation professionals have been doing for years. Nitrogen is completely safe. And by using it in a mixture with oxygen to inflate your tyres the theory is that it’s possible to negate the issue of slow deflation, which is caused by oxygen slowly infusing through the tyre wall from the atmosphere.

Having a tyre that does not deflate means you will improve fuel consumption and will probably improve safety standards too. It’s not yet standard practice but Nitrogen could well be here to stay as a result.”

Here is a link to the other side of the argument: TyreSave.co.uk

Makes you think eh?

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The Art of Driving


All of us are great drivers. We must be, because we all believe we are better than the next bloke.

Then why is it that there are so many bad drivers on our roads today? You will not believe the buffoonery I have to witness on a daily basis, whether I am driving to the shops or just out looking for a nice road, there will be some idiot doing something daft. I’m sure you have seen it too, and grabbed the moral high ground with a resounding toot on the horn, a yell out of the window or even a dramatic (but intended, for more visual impact) swerve or screech of brakes.

But I wonder what separates driving skill? I am not immune from yelling and screaming when behind the wheel, I have been known to let an almost dangerous situation develop, just because I am in the right and the other bloke was being an idiot. I have realised the error of my ways, don’t worry there is no preaching in this column, just observations, but I think I am a ‘better’ driver than I was because now I see these things and try and avoid them and get the car out of harms way. I say better, but better than what? I think better than I was, not better than anyone else. This, and the trip to the track last week has got me thinking.

Spa Eau Rouge 2As you all know, I have a very good friend, who expertly drives various cars very quickly. In getting a car round a track, or indeed round a twisty bit of road he stands head and shoulders above me in ability. To my knowledge he has had no training in driving fast, he hasn’t been driving that long but can handle a car with such mastery it makes me feel like a total novice. Is it innate ability? Is he naturally talented? I don’t think that’s possible as there is no way he can have a natural talent for driving, killing a mammoth or making fire is instinctive, 100mph exiting Eau Rouge is skilful or just plain brave.

I think bravery and faith play a big part in it, the car is technically capable of cornering, braking and holding together at such speed but will only actually go around corners as fast as the driver feels comfortable. I thought it could be that this friend of mine has only been brought up on a diet of newish, well maintained sporty cars, mostly ones with Gti or ‘R’ as initials after the badge, but handing my old everyday hatchback with its weak engine and knackered suspension, he was still able to corner at speeds that made me feint, then turn to me and grin “The double wishbone suspension on this car is awesome, look how the car turns in to the corner…” Same car, same engine same road but it just wont do it for me.

But there is hope. At the track another friend, with a very fast car that has has an absolute fortune spent upgrading it to a serous contender, offered some advice to this bloke and pointed out some errors and correct lines to take. I found he was then able to take corners faster, not kill the brakes and put in better lap times. All of this advice was based on technique, applied correctly, made for a quicker and safer drive (the brakes worked!) To us less brave souls that have a dollop of life preserving fear in our make up this is all very good news, because driving well can be taught. drive l plate cutI am not referring to the bloke in a Micra with a plastic ‘L’ on the roof that enabled you to prove to another bloke in a polyester suit you could parallel park without killing someone, I’m talking about driving a car safely and quickly, whether on track or on the road. Knowing the limits and recognizing the hazards.

Like minded people can help so can well organized track days where there is expert advice on hand, but beware of the know it all loud mouth that can out do just about everyone and shows no consideration as he sticks his poor car into another bend and just about makes it out alive… This time.

Drive fast, drive safe, drive well.

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Track Days, Spa and Nurburgring

I have learnt a lot over the past few days, a very good friend has spent the bank holiday weekend educating me on  some very important lessons. The first one related to driving.

A few years ago, I was visited by my wife’s American grandparents who thought it would be ‘neat’ to go visit Paris. ‘Great idea’ I said, ‘go by coach, or train or even plane’ So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself in Calais at the wheel of my very knackered Ford Orion with only an outdated AA map of Europe to guide me, no sat nav in those days oh no, and 3 expectant Americans in the back.

A word from one who has experienced it, Paris is not to be taken lightly. It was my first experience of continental driving and I vowed it was to be my last. I drove to Paris, found myself in some weird underground road system that resembled the London Underground, then, in desperation, found a sign for Boulogne and like a drowning man after a fun tube bolted for the coastal town. Only to find that there are in fact TWO Boulognes… the one I was heading for was going deeper and deeper south. Halfway back the brakes gave out.
So I swore that I would never ever go to Europe, and if I did I would never ever drive, but there I was at 4am behind the wheel of a very smart Honda Integra belting down through France, into Belgium and heading for the Nurburgring, having the time of my life. Lesson one, never say never.
DSCF0276For those who don’t know, the Nurburgring is a large (14 or so miles long)  track in Germany, and  for 22 euros you can drive your car around. You will notice I didn’t say ‘race’ as the ‘track’ obeys German road regulations, passing on the right is prohibited and if you crash you pay for the barriers to be fixed. Its basically a 14 mile one way loop with only 1 speed restriction, which is rarely adhered to , in the village section. Its bumpy, confusing, has a lot (over 100) corners and is very narrow in parts. Also, it gets very busy, and from what I saw, there was no control on how many vehicles were allowed on the track at one time, worrying and potentially dangerous. But all this I think is part of the appeal, people hurl £30,000 of car around it chased by people in cars that cost a lot less than that at speeds that make the most hardened petrolhead need a change of pants.
I’m not going to get into the ring here, but I can report it is terrifying, amazing, sickening, brutal, awe inspiring, fascinating and stomach churning all at once, and the cars in the carpark are to die for. I was lucky to have been with someone who is familiar with the ring and has driven it a few times so I made it back with out a scratch, but almost minus my breakfast.
DSCF0293Continuing my education, my friend then took me to Belgium, where we were to participate in a track day at Spa Francorchamps. The day had been organised by the Mitsubishi Lancer Register, MLR. It was my first track day for cars (I have done a few on motorcycles, Paddock bend IS that scary I can report) It was a brilliant day, well organised and fun. Safety was paramount and with the exception of a few offs and crunched wings everyone had a good time. Spa is a great track, fast and very exciting totally different to the bumps and grinds of the ring. We had access to a pit garage, yep the ones that are used by the F1 boys, I can say with some pride that I might have taken a whizz in the same bog as Mr Shoeymaker! There was some  spectacular metal on track, the Lancers were fast and agile and I was amazed at the level of skill at which they were being driven, indeed that was another of my lessons, DSCF0353without doubt my favorite car there was an old, slightly shabby E30 BMW stripped, caged and lowered but running on a stock engine with over 100,000 miles on it but was driven expertly and very quickly round the track, thank you to the driver for an education! (I managed to grab a ride)
So what were the lessons learned? Belgium is truly beautiful. Northern France isn’t. Don’t let one bad experience ruin things. Buy a good sat nav, the one we used was brilliant, lane guidance and speed warnings are a great help. Nurburgring is not to be taken lightly, so go with experienced friends, don’t think you are a good driver out there because you are not. Track days are awesome. Driving on the continent is easy if you avoid Paris. You don’t need a bucket load of cash to have a great time at a track day. Take loads of pictures, because when you get home you will wish you had taken more. Last point, find a good hotel, we stayed in what can only be described as ‘castle colditz’ who reminded us on the booking form ‘Please note, we do not supply towels or beds’ and they were right!
Big thankyou to my friend for letting me tag along and for driving so expertly. Thank you to all the others in the group who made me feel welcome, and yes, Leffe is a very nice beer! Thank you for the ride in the E30, the car is amazing and boy can you drive! and last but not least, thank you for the offer to ride in that amazing Subaru, but I need to find a bit more courage!

Integra for the weekend? Yes please!

Integra for the weekend? Yes please!

Nextime I want a ride in the Subaru...

Nextime I want a ride in the Subaru...

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