I love the smell of octane in the afternoon!

Posted on June 4, 2011 by

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It doesn’t matter how many times I drive into Silverstone, I always get that warm, fuzzy feeling that I’m at a very special motor racing circuit  that  has  seen  countless  champions  and  champions  in  the  making  screaming round in the name of Motorsport and our entertainment. If, when you’re walking down the pit lane you stop for a second and close your eyes (only when safe to do so of course!) you can almost see and hear the likes of Moss, Stewart, Brabham, Hill (the first one… oh, ok and the second one, no that’s not fair, I actually like the guy!) Mansell and Schumacher speaking to their pit crews, deciding on set ups and the general air of electricity that runs through the air of being there on F1 race day.

However, on a sunny afternoon in June, Silverstone was being host to the other great Motorsport tradition that graces this Fair Isle, the all-important MG weekend. Perhaps the only weekend in the year when you will see so many MG products all “under one roof” so to speak dating back to the early MG’s that graced our roads in the 1930’s right up to present day cars (I do believe that I saw a few 06 registered MGR products parked up which as far as I’m concerned can only be good).

The reason for my attendance this year was to spend the day with the Dreadnought Team and get to see them in action. Following my first visit up to Callendar back in February where I “met” the ZT520 that Brian, Paul and Claire have built, it seemed only right to follow the car for the day down at Silverstone where Paul would be racing in the 100km endurance race during the MG weekend. Paul was also racing in a smaller car that day too, Little Rocky the rather pepped up MG Metro with the good old (if not highly modified) A Series engine in that he thoroughly enjoyed driving!

I was greeted by Paul  at the  entrance to  the track where I tagged in behind and followed him down to the pits where I was greeted enthusiastically by Brian even though he was busy scurrying around the pits doing things. I also bumped into Womble and Tony C from the Two-Sixties who had been there for a vast majority of the weekend supporting the team and more than likely drinking the beer too!

Garage 10 was full of interested people and a rather large Scottish flag flying proudly in the entrance (and so it should). It was also home to a stricken Caterham, or Lotus 7 depending on which way the wind was blowing that had come to grief apparently the day before when another car decided that it would be much happier some 6 feet off the track in the air as opposed to on it and had damaged the steering rack when it decided to return to earth with an expensive bump. Brian was doing is usual and repairing something with the precision and care needed to get a race car back on the road again… I’m sure that there was a bit of gaffer tape, string and a big hammer involved somewhere along the line.

However, sitting there quietly, patiently in the garage was large black, green striped wee beastie wearing 67 attached via a black and red umbilical cord to a slave battery keeping everything topped up and functioning. It was nice to see it again in its real habitat, ready for action and without being too biased certainly looking the best out of all the cars that were racing during the day, and that included the brand new S Type Jaguar that was racing.

Having been entrusted with the tyre pressure gauge by Brian, I checked all four of the huge Toyo racing tyres and  set  them  to  the  required pressure for qualifying, 28psi front +1 at the back. Quite low compared to a road going version of the 260, but as we all know, it’s not a 260 it’s double that and it doesn’t go near the road. Brian also took me through some of the other checks that are required before  going  out on the track, from checking the various electrical systems, oil catch tanks and the all important cable ties that are present he saved the important bit till last; water.

The ZT520 has a little habit of getting warm during a race so keeping the heart cool is extremely important. The various coolers are working  overtime  during  the race. The diff is cooled as is the gearbox and the expansion tank for the radiator is a lovely aluminium container that sits in the engine bay doing it’s bit in the name of cooling. Brian topped up the block as Sean Hyland requests and it was all ready to go. The engine that somehow is shoehorned into the engine bay was all ready to go.

Paul had been out in the Metro to set a time and after a half hour break preparation to get the ZT up  and  running  was  beginning.  Although  the 32v V8 engine is fairly unstressed at the moment as there would appear to be a bit more in the beast to come potentially, it still needs warming and settling before take off.

This was the first time that I had heard the car start up, as it wasn’t possible to do so back in February. The ridiculously small battery that lives in the car supplied the energy to the starter motor. How it does it is beyond me, it looks like it couldn’t run a Fisher Price toy, let along crank a huge great V8! But I’m told that it’s good for well over 6 starts. No point carrying extra weight, it’s heavy enough as it is. In fact, to put that sentence into perspective, the Caterham or Lotus or whatever it was sat in the garage represented how much “overweight” the ZT was; 600kg or so! The practical upshot of this meant that whilst the “toy” car had about 30 litres of fuel put in it to run the 100km race, the ZT had to have the tank topped up with 85 litres or enough fuel to run my ZT-T 135 for about a month or  800  miles!  And  that’s  a  stripped out car with a roll cage and nothing else in it including plastic windows and no fascia or He VAc (heating and ventilation) kit in! Somewhere along the line I knew we’d made the original cars too heavy for their own good, this just emphasised the fact.

However, scary figures aside, the car sat there and warmed up doing little throttle blip just to get the fluids moving and warm as Paul got himself ready for the qualifying period. Sharing the drive with Paul was Adam Crowton a thoroughly nice chap who I later found out worked for Aston Martin, so he was no stranger to powerful beasts as he is one of Astons brake engineers. The plan was for Paul to drive for about 11 or 12 laps to set the cars qualifying time and then Adam would hop in the car and get out to get the feel for the car again

It doesn’t matter how many times I drive into Silverstone, I always get that warm, fuzzy feeling that I’m at a very special motor racing circuit  that  has  seen  countless  champions  and  champions  in  the  making  screaming round in the name of Motorsport and our entertainment. If, when you’re walking down the pit lane you stop for a second and close your eyes (only when safe to do so of course!) you can almost see and hear the likes of Moss, Stewart, Brabham, Hill (the first one… oh, ok and the second one, no that’s not fair, I actually like the guy!) Mansell and Schumacher speaking to their pit crews, deciding on set ups and the general air of electricity that runs through the air of being there on F1 race day.

However, on a sunny afternoon in June, Silverstone was being host to the other great Motorsport tradition that graces this Fair Isle, the all-important MG weekend. Perhaps the only weekend in the year when you will see so many MG products all “under one roof” so to speak dating back to the early MG’s that graced our roads in the 1930’s right up to present day cars (I do believe that I saw a few 06 registered MGR products parked up which as far as I’m concerned can only be good).

The reason for my attendance this year was to spend the day with the Dreadnought Team and get to see them in action. Following my first visit up to Callendar back in February where I “met” the ZT520 that Brian, Paul and Claire have built, it seemed only right to follow the car for the day down at Silverstone where Paul would be racing in the 100km endurance race during the MG weekend. Paul was also racing in a smaller car that day too, Little Rocky the rather pepped up MG Metro with the good old (if not highly modified) A Series engine in that he thoroughly enjoyed driving!

I was greeted by Paul  at the  entrance to  the track where I tagged in behind and followed him down to the pits where I was greeted enthusiastically by Brian even though he was busy scurrying around the pits doing things. I also bumped into Womble and Tony C from the Two-Sixties who had been there for a vast majority of the weekend supporting the team and more than likely drinking the beer too!

Garage 10 was full of interested people and a rather large Scottish flag flying proudly in the entrance (and so it should). It was also home to a stricken Caterham, or Lotus 7 depending on which way the wind was blowing that had come to grief apparently the day before when another car decided that it would be much happier some 6 feet off the track in the air as opposed to on it and had damaged the steering rack when it decided to return to earth with an expensive bump. Brian was doing is usual and repairing something with the precision and care needed to get a race car back on the road again… I’m sure that there was a bit of gaffer tape, string and a big hammer involved somewhere along the line.

However, sitting there quietly, patiently in the garage was large black, green striped wee beastie wearing 67 attached via a black and red umbilical cord to a slave battery keeping everything topped up and functioning. It was nice to see it again in its real habitat, ready for action and without being too biased certainly looking the best out of all the cars that were racing during the day, and that included the brand new S Type Jaguar that was racing.

Having been entrusted with the tyre pressure gauge by Brian, I checked all four of the huge Toyo racing tyres and  set  them  to  the  required pressure for qualifying, 28psi front +1 at the back. Quite low compared to a road going version of the 260, but as we all know, it’s not a 260 it’s double that and it doesn’t go near the road. Brian also took me through some of the other checks that are required before  going  out on the track, from checking the various electrical systems, oil catch tanks and the all important cable ties that are present he saved the important bit till last; water.

The ZT520 has a little habit of getting warm during a race so keeping the heart cool is extremely important. The various coolers are working  overtime  during  the race. The diff is cooled as is the gearbox and the expansion tank for the radiator is a lovely aluminium container that sits in the engine bay doing it’s bit in the name of cooling. Brian topped up the block as Sean Hyland requests and it was all ready to go. The engine that somehow is shoehorned into the engine bay was all ready to go.

Paul had been out in the Metro to set a time and after a half hour break preparation to get the ZT up  and  running  was  beginning.  Although  the 32v V8 engine is fairly unstressed at the moment as there would appear to be a bit more in the beast to come potentially, it still needs warming and settling before take off.

This was the first time that I had heard the car start up, as it wasn’t possible to do so back in February. The ridiculously small battery that lives in the car supplied the energy to the starter motor. How it does it is beyond me, it looks like it couldn’t run a Fisher Price toy, let along crank a huge great V8! But I’m told that it’s good for well over 6 starts. No point carrying extra weight, it’s heavy enough as it is. In fact, to put that sentence into perspective, the Caterham or Lotus or whatever it was sat in the garage represented how much “overweight” the ZT was; 600kg or so! The practical upshot of this meant that whilst the “toy” car had about 30 litres of fuel put in it to run the 100km race, the ZT had to have the tank topped up with 85 litres or enough fuel to run my ZT-T 135 for about a month or  800  miles!  And  that’s  a  stripped out car with a roll cage and nothing else in it including plastic windows and no fascia or He VAc (heating and ventilation) kit in! Somewhere along the line I knew we’d made the original cars too heavy for their own good, this just emphasised the fact.

However, scary figures aside, the car sat there and warmed up doing little throttle blip just to get the fluids moving and warm as Paul got himself ready for the qualifying period. Sharing the drive with Paul was Adam Crowton a thoroughly nice chap who I later found out worked for Aston Martin, so he was no stranger to powerful beasts as he is one of Astons brake engineers. The plan was for Paul to drive for about 11 or 12 laps to set the cars qualifying time and then Adam would hop in the car and get out to get the feel for the car again and “get into the grove” so to speak.

It never ceases to amaze me how different it can be stood on the pit wall as opposed to sitting or standing in the grandstands or bends around the circuit. You think that the cars or bikes are flying past you down the start/finish straight but nothing prepares you for the first time you have to hang over the pit wall with the important pit board for the drivers. The first time I had a go was during a BTCC race when the MG ZS in their “proper” black and Chernobyl green stripes were racing. I can’t actually remember the words I used but I think that they may have been colourful as 20 screaming BTCC cars flew past. I thought that I was going to get sucked out onto the track. For anyone who has ever held a pit board you’ll know  what  I mean. The increase in speed seems ten-fold and it’s not advisable to drop anything as you’ll probably never see it again (not that we did of course, well ok yes we did, the all important “IN” tab!

After ten minutes Paul flew into the pits having  set a good qualifying time and Adam dropped into the drivers seat in a fairly relaxed manner and off he went. This was the first time that I’d heard the ZT under full throttle as Adam took off up the pit lane and out onto the circuit. That V8 sounds absolutely gorgeous. Deep, rich and menacing with a hint of American NASCAR about it, a hint of “feel free to get out of my way when I’m behind you on the track” kind of vibe.

After Adam had come back into the pits after his session on the track, the car was parked up and checked over for leaks, missing bits and so on. Happily the car had not lost anything or more importantly gained anything (dropped gearbox bit, stray animals and so on). The race would begin at about 4pm so it was time for a bite to eat and a calm down for those in need…. mainly Brian who seemed to pace around a lot whilst Paul and Adam were out on the track. Why? Because like all good fathers, he was worried about them out there on the track at close quarters at speeds over 120mph with others all hell bent on succeeding on finishing or winning the race or class. “You worry about them when they’re little, you worry about them when they’re at school and you worry about them when you get older and let them go on to tracks….” He muttered as he fired up the B-B-Q!

The first race after just before the  Dreadnought  lunch  included MG Metros from days gone by with the tried and trusted “A” Series engines in. Having put “Little Rocky” on pole for it’s class as there was one other Metro out there with a “K” Series engine wedged up front the race was off and running and although the more powerful Metro was up front behind some other highly tuned MG B’s and so on, Paul was catching them all. After a well fought race, Paul brought the car home first in class and set a new lap record  for  his  class  knocking  a  full 1.52 seconds off the previous record which oddly enough belonged to the guy who used to race the car and won the championship.

Brian, looking resplendent with his Deerstalker hat on and winners garland cooked away happy as Larry as Paul was back in the fold… for the time being.

Twenty minutes before the race the ZT was fuelled up and with 85 or so litres of fuel added the final touch was a wee dram of Octane booster to the tank. Not really necessary for boosting the fuel mix in the combustion chamber, but the small can means that the combustion chambers run cooler thus keeping the head temperatures down another 10 degrees with the main intention of keeping the whole engine cooler and taking some of the strain off the other components in the engine.

Feeling slightly light headed having breathed in 85 litres worth of premium unleaded fuel vapour and a good few lung-fill’s of octane booster, I floated outside to make sure that Paul got out of the pit lane ok and off to race control and also to clear my head and so that we could discuss how the driver change would take place and who was going to look after what so that the transition would be smooth, fast and painless.

I was to be responsible for the passenger side of the car making sure that when Paul out of the car, the left side of the belt harness and bolsters were well clear ensuring the Adams ingress to the car was ok. Upon completion of this part, I was to get out of the car lock up and then it was my responsibility to guide Adam out of the pit lane and back onto the track without putting him or anyone else in danger.

The race started with a cacophony of sound that got louder and louder and by the time the cars had got to the top of the pit straight where we were, Paul had got the ZT into 3rd place and possibly second by the first corner and the air was filled with noise smells and the familiar tension that you get when everyone piles into the first corner for the first time. That was it, all we could do now was hang over the pit wall (which was potentially even more hair raising this time as things were going much faster and there was that competitive edge there now) and count Paul down the mandatory pit stop and driver change. As the race progressed, Paul was keeping the Porsche GT3 that was up ahead of him in touch and ever so gently gaining  on  him,  the  Lotus/Caterham  was well out front, but that was hardly surprising as something with over 260bhp and weighing about as much as a packet of crisps was always going to be up front, however his ability to stay there was looking interesting as he was running with a cracked disc up front – brave lad!

Two laps to go, everyone’s heartbeat must have jumped a bit as none of us had  practised  the driver change. I for one was a bit nervous as guiding Adam out of the pit garage meant I had to be aware of everything around me so as not to make a mistake, an expensive mistake at that.

Out shot the pit board with the re-claimed “in” tab so we took our places with Brian (who put his worry to one side for a few minutes to extract Paul and insert Adam in the car. I took my place at the head of the garage waiting for Paul to pull in. Then up the pit lane came the meanest looking car in the race. The road going ZT’s have a fantastic presence and they still look good today despite all of the goings on over the past 14 months or so when…… well, everyone knows about April 2005. This black and green monster rolled up pit straight aiming for us and it’s one hell of a sight especially when you’re stood in front of it when it’s doing 50mph. Car stopped, doors open, we went to work. I jumped in the passenger side and held all of the belts back for Adam and made sure that the side bolster stayed put. As Adam slid in everything was neatly dropped over shoulders and legs, within 30 seconds we’d swapped drivers and I was at the front of the car watching the traffic flow up pit straight. Adam was ready and on the given signal, I released Adam up pit straight clear from any traffic. As we were so close to the top of pit lane, full throttle could be used, as the car would just hit 50 at the end of the restricted section. There it was again, that fantastic sound that is about on par for me with a Spitfire on full dive!

Back on the pit wall the stopwatches were out to see if Adam could pull the Porsche in. The first driver had given them a good start which was obviously needed as the second driver was living up to predictions and not going fast enough as Adam was pulling him in at a rate of seven seconds a lap. After three laps, Adam had done it, he’d picked the Porsche up, had a good chew and spat him out and was pulling away giving the Dreadnought team a well deserved first place for the class. It was a fantastic moment, ok it’s not the same as say when Mansell did that fantastic wheel to wheel over taking manoeuvre on Prost all of those years ago, but for a few seconds, you knew what made racing special, what made Silverstone that special feeling that I’d had when I drove in earlier in the morning.

Dreadnought was flying…..

Then as all good Motorsport enthusiasts will know,  “sods law” decided that it would pay a visit to Silverstone and pick Dreadnought. Where was Adam? There was the Porsche, where was the ZT? There is no way the car could have fallen off the track, our driver was far too good for that. There’s no way the engine could have given up, that was far too good and besides it had only run for thirty one hours so it was still fresh. Where on earth was Adam.

A quick whistle from the back of the pit garage seemed to answer our questions, Adam was there, helmet off and looking a bit miffed with things.

Having picked off the Porsche and getting away from him, the car developed a nasty vibration from the rear of the car. Under load, the back end seemed to vibrate badly thus prompting Adam to be sensible and retire the car. The sign of a good racer is not to push the car and hope that it will last but retire and preserve the car. This is what Adam had done. Was it a propshaft that had gone or something more serious? The back end of the car was jacked up and someone stuck their head under to investigate. The propshafts seemed ok but on moving something there was a sickening clatter of ball bearings dropping onto the floor.

That was that. After a fantastic day, retirement was the end story. In an odd way, but I can understand why, Brian was not at all concerned that the car had been retired as the engine had not given up and that was ok (on closer inspection it was the prop centre bearing mounting that had let go during Adam’s stint so good thing that he brought the car in before it shook itself to pieces.) Brian’s pride is in his engines, the car is just the packaging around and after thirty off hours running without a hic-cup is pretty good especially as 24 of those hours was at Silverstone in one hit!

All that adrenaline, all the hopes of a class win were shattered, but the experience that we’d gained, me included was more important I felt. It was another opportunity for Dreadnought to further understand the car as they haven’t really “tried” to set the suspension up and there is a bucket load of improvements that can be dialled in given the time and funds. Packing up was again a team effort and as the ZT was loaded onto trailer I couldn’t help think that seeing the car on the back of the open air trailer was a good thing, it’s  just a shame that we didn’t use it to promote MGR more. There were many things we should have done and using  the  520  would  have  been  fantastic, however, bygones.

We said our good byes and off we went. I was lucky I only had an hour or so to drive home, the Dreadnought crew had got near enough an 8-hour drive to go! Leaving the almost deserted track I couldn’t help smiling about the day and the sheer  adrenaline rush everyone had been feeding off during the races. It’s a magical atmosphere on the pit wall, one that has to be experienced at least once during your “racing” life. Hopefully Dreadnought will be back for the MG weekend next year when the stunning ZT 520 will be back to stamp its authority on Silverstone and everyone’s MG encrusted minds. I wonder if there will be any other sponsor stickers on the car by then with an eastern flavour…?

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Posted in: Features