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Thoughts on Rallying, Westfield suitability

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A Few thoughts on the suitability and effectiveness of Westfield in rallying…

Didn’t know where to put this and figured Westfield World has already had enough of us so I’ll post it here for those that fancy reading something to while away those hours at work. It’s a long and varied one so fetch a coffee - you may need it :)

Background

Having sprinted for a couple of very enjoyable years in the popular Westfield Sportscar Club’s Speed Series I felt it was time for a change – I wanted more track time for my money and was prepared to put up with the potential extra costs generally associated with track/rally work in exchange for increased driving time (lack of driving time being my gripe with sprinting). Looking around, endurance racing seemed the best option, but by pure chance we fell into tarmac rallying, in Barbados. Three years on, I thought it might be worth jotting down a few notes…

Sprinting vs rallying

So, how different was tarmac rallying to sprinting? Tarmac rallying (in our case) can be thought of as taking three sprint tracks ten or so miles apart, driving to the first, running a competitive time, driving to the next, doing your run, onto the third, putting in your time and then back to the pits for a twenty-five minute service before repeating the process. All day, and all night.

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From a driver’s perspective, you get little time to rest or to prepare yourself, for as soon as one stage is complete, you’re listening to your codriver’s directions (taken from a route book containing Tulip diagrams) to do the transit section to the next stage, five minutes waiting in the queue of cars at the stage arrival to collect your thoughts and off you go again. I’d term it ‘speed sprinting’ - lots of quick sprints with little or no time between them.

From a car preparation perspective you get nigh on zero time to fix problems – twenty-five minutes at service is just about long enough to check fluids, major bolts, stretch your legs, and top up your driver/codriver water supplies before heading back out.

One issue I had with sprinting is that you didn’t get (m)any chances to learn the venue beforehand so you are always at a disadvantage when it comes to trying to outpace a seasoned competitor. Rallying changed this slightly with the opportunity to pace note a stage beforehand - basically driving the stage in advance and noting down what corners are coming.

Yes, you will still be at a disadvantage to someone who has driven the stage at speed before, but less so because you will have someone telling you what is coming up. However, this does not guarantee your speed, for example, imagine you’re approaching a blind crest on a narrow road lined with trees and a few telegraph poles, the person on your left says “it’s a flat right hander, don’t bother braking”, and you’re in sixth gear already doing 140mph, do you trust them enough to take it flat? Well, if you want to put in a good time you have to trust them and take it flat - regardless of telephone poles, cut rock etc. It takes quite a while to build up that confidence and I have to admit I’m still not 100% there. It’s also the difficulty in taking in so much information in your ears while you're taking all the information through the rest of you to drive the car…

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Another lesson learnt was the completely different approach that you need to take to the day. A sprint day was all about building up your speed to peak for your final couple of runs, taking the first run easy to remind yourself (or learn!;) the track, the second run to confirm, the third to put in a time and the fourth to put in a good time. Do this on a rally (as we did in 2004) and by the time you get to your final few runs you’ve lost minutes of time that is nigh on impossible to get back…

Now, so far this has sounded like hard work, mentally and physically with a high degree of danger and cost with a chance of serious injury, but it’s not all bad. When sprinting, the track time you get (ie. three to five runs) was the major annoyance. With stage rallying you’re pretty much on ‘track’ the entire time. To me, it’s the combination of having multiple challenging routes/roads to drive, the teamwork and trust between driver/codriver and the quality of machinery required to complete an event that make it special. Initially, just getting to the end of an event is an achievement let alone placing well.

As with most motorsport (at least at this level), the reward is more the personal challenge and sense of achievement than any vague dream of a financial gain. With rallying the challenge felt ten times harder than any motorsport I had done before because it challenged all aspects – physical, mental, mechanical (and quite frequently financial!;) to the absolute extreme.

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Westfield suitability and modifications

Simple question – can a Westfield make a good tarmac rally car?

Simple answer – yes, well, no, well sort of.

Okay, not a simple answer, so here goes explaining. A standard Westfield would not last two stages on a tarmac rally. However, a modified Westfield can win the class.

The standard Westfield chassis has a number of extreme weakpoints, most notably the entire differential area and the ‘open’ front third of the chassis (especially the two top suspension mounts). These areas are prone to cracking and, in the case of the suspension mounts, easily bent. This has been the case in many uses of the cars, from circuit racing, sprinting right through to rallying. Aggressive gearbox/clutch combinations and/or large power outputs tend to snap diff mounts with ease. So, the first step is to strengthen these areas as best one can with cross-bracing/triangulation. A stiff, strong chassis being the basis for the rest of the car.

Secondly, some simple rallying kit is required – good night lights (preferably HID gas discharge), longer travel shocks (pref 5-7” ground clearance with good travel), stronger wishbones (front and rear, circular not oval/aero section), maplight, intercom etc. All pretty much common sense stuff but very necessary. Another lesson learnt was to go rose-jointed, not (just) because of the extra adjustability but due to the fact that when you hit a corner of the car the rose joints tend to disintegrate – when this happens with bolted bushes all the shock goes into the chassis bending it…

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One area that was not even considered until it came to crunch time was the simple job of getting in and out of the car quickly (as happens at the arrival to each stage). Next time you get in your car, time this sequence – climb in through the roll cage, get into your seat, do up your six point harnesses, wrist restraints, put on your balaclava, get your helmet on (ensuring your full-face intercom earpieces are set correctly), put on your gloves, make sure everything on the car is set (intercom, lights, datalogger, video camera etc). Now, try it from the codrivers’ point of view - do all the above while organising pace notes, maplight, stopwatch, pen, timing sheets all in the cramped confines of a Westfield. Now do it in three minutes.

Servicing throws up another interesting one. The stronger the car the less servicing required. We’ve been lucky, our service stops constituted nothing more than simple checks, however, building the car with easy access and quick release bodywork/panels is a must. Such is the limited time you get to rectify problems.

It’s worth pointing out that a Westfield is not designed as a rally car so this is operating way out of the constraints the car was designed for. However, was a Peugeot 206 designed as a rally car? No, they took a standard package to bits, reengineered 90% of the car and made a World Championship wining machine, with a lot of work, lots of bespoke components and a vast amount of money. While not on the same scale, modifying a Westfield for this task was no small job. Considering design spec though, I believe that a standard Westfield barely even makes a suitable track car, after working on a few cars now I wouldn’t go near a sprint track or a race track in one without 10m of extra bracing put into the car and a roll cage – not solely because of safety but because of the rigidity too. It’s criminal that the chassis can be released as suitable for track with the weakpoints it has and still the factory claim that each time “it’s the first time it’s happened”.

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With regards to Westfield Sportscars themselves, well, I’m sure we all know, you can get them on a good day and they’re okay to deal with, you can get them on a bad day and you want to bang your head against a wall. We’ve experienced both, with the exception of the parts department we have had zero assistance (and if anything less than that) but we are operating outside of what they designed their cars to do so there are bound to be issues and we know we’re on our own. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to try this in any other type of ‘Seven’ car (I’m not naming the various marques), Westfield have a good overall package despite some (addressable) flaws, questionable after-sales support  but are the best value for money in the genre, the Westfield Sportscar Club and it’s members being the icing on the cake.

I’m not going to go into the complete spec of the two ‘Westfield’ rally cars we run, it’s freely available on our site and various other places but suffice to say the similarities between a factory Westfield and the ‘rally’ Westfields we run are akin to those of a road-going 206 and a 206 WRC. Yes, a factory car can be made to work at rallying, but it’s taken us two years of development to figure out how to make them work and perform reliably and quickly.

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Barbados for rallying & motorport

Fancy motorsport in Barbados? Well, I couldn’t recommend a better location, for circuit racing, rallying, karting, in fact all forms of motorsport. For such a small island the enthusiasm surpasses that of the Isle of Man. Everyone on the island has time for motorsport, so much so there are two very popular motoring clubs which combined seem to have some sort of motorsport event every weekend of the year – karting, rallying, sprinting, off-roading, navigating, dexterity, speed trials and more. It really is a haven of motorsport. And the machinery there is by no means average - WRC cars, works karts, purpose built circuit monsters they have the lot.

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To give you an idea of the enthusiasm on the island for motorsport I go back to our first year. Running late to scrutineering, made later due to the roads clogged with rallyfans trying to get to scrutineering to see the cars, we were driving ‘enthusiastically’ to make up time. Jumping the odd queue of cars and going a little quickly when there was noone around. However, upon jumping a particularly long queue of cars into a T-Juntion I spied a policeman at the front of the queue directing traffic. He pointed authoritavely at me and motioned me to him immediately. Great I thought, thrown out of an International rally before we even get there. With my co-driver sighing in the passenger seat the policeman moved out into the flow of traffic, stopped the flow both ways and motioned me forward. What’s this? A reprieve we thought? Hopes dashed when he firmly motions us to stop by him, at which point he leans down to me and says “You may go……..but only if you light them up”. I’m sorry? “Burn out, then you may go”. Jaw on floor, small safe burnout complete, we make scrutineering just in time…

The tarmac on the island is very challenging, as said frequently in the past it’s slippy. Very slippy. Akin to our tarmac in the wet, and if it’s actually wet out there? Be afraid. It is no exaggeration when we compare it to ice.

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The other danger is two-fold – telegraph poles and cutrock. The telegraph poles line all the roads, this is both a blessing and a danger. A danger for obvious reasons (should you go off) and a blessing as they are one of the secrets of driving the roads quickly. Should you get lost in your notes and forget what is coming up, glance at the poles above and they will tell you the curvature of the corner. The second part of the danger is the cut-rock, this is the hewn limestone/coral rock outcrops all over the island, meet one of them with your car and you’re out the rally…

My only other tip is Camelbaks. Buy some before you take your car out there, they will save your life. Sitting all day in Nomex underwear, a three layer Nomex suit, balaclava and full face helmet in the full glare of the equatorial sun in a race car is hot work. We were consuming over 3litres of water every loop (a loop takes under two hours).

All this in mind, Barbados is a little motorsport gem that is only going to get bigger and bigger, and at the end of the day, if you break your car on event, which would you prefer – towing down the M1 in the rain to get home or sitting on a white sand beach with a rum and coke in hand watching the bikinis pass by?

thanks

Must go to the Westfield Sportscar Club for their support and generosity in both time and knowledge. Mick and Jan Cooper, without whom none of this would be possible. Derek Hodder, Paul Aspden @ Plays-Kool, Barney, Gary Bunn, Martin Atwell, Fred Corbin, Greg Cozier, the Barbados Rally Club and all the rest of you for putting up with our constant crap :)

links

www.fluke-motorsport.co.uk

www.barbadosrallycarnival.com

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Could you send the pics to Peter Osbourne please?

Excellent article, thanks.   With the new A4 format, we are always looking for this sort of thing.

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Can't resist, have to "unlurk".

I added two topics from Graeme's post at the bottom of my reply that scared the hell out of me. I'm currently looking into the Westy Mega range. Main use will be track days and weekend blasts with and without girlfriend. I wanna build it myself from a comprehensive kit, despite being "technically challenged" (don't even know if it's feasable for me to build it myself).

Needless to say Graeme's remarks scared me senseless. Chassis bending and cracking on track days. Not really what I'm looking for. Due to my lack of technical knowledge of cars, I can't see myself being able to pinpoint and remedy the weak spots in a chassis. Not looking to kill myself on a track day either with a car that is just not up to the task. Don't know what to make of this, should I forget about the Westies and save up for a lotus elise? Or did I misinterprete, did Graeme only speak in competitive motorsport terms (which occasional track days obviously are not).

Thanks in advance for the feedback guys.

back to lurking mode

The standard Westfield chassis has a number of extreme weakpoints, most notably the entire differential area and the ‘open’ front third of the chassis (especially the two top suspension mounts). These areas are prone to cracking and, in the case of the suspension mounts, easily bent. This has been the case in many uses of the cars, from circuit racing, sprinting right through to rallying.

I believe that a standard Westfield barely even makes a suitable track car, after working on a few cars now I wouldn’t go near a sprint track or a race track in one without 10m of extra bracing put into the car and a roll cage – not solely because of safety but because of the rigidity too. It’s criminal that the chassis can be released as suitable for track with the weakpoints it has and still the factory claim that each time “it’s the first time it’s happened”.

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Not trying to scare monger, just sick and tired of having diff mounts crack on many cars. Only by stressing these things to the max do you find where the weak spots are. Don't let it put you off.

Mainly applicable to hard use in these cars (ie. a lot of track/sprint/etc work) and/or big power outputs. But, if you have the chassis in bare form, it's worth welding a bit of extra bracing in there (esp. diff are) while you have the chance, barely takes any time and will save a lot of hassle later.

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Needless to say Graeme's remarks scared me senseless

Bart, dont worry, these little cars are really strong and will soak up loads a punishment! :D  :D  :D  :D  :D

Get yourself in one and have some fun, they are amazing! :D  :D  :D  :D

Let us know where you are and we will sort out a Blast for you!

Rob

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I would say that you're only really going to start to have problems with diff mounts when you've got really high engine outputs and putting lots of stress through the diff mountings. A Mega (particularly a blade) isnt going to do this I wouldnt think, and there are loads of Megas that run regularly on trackdays which don't have any problems whatsoever.

As to the front end bracing, as always there is room for improvement (as there is on any car of this type), but I don't think its a major issue that makes the car unsafe.

Chris

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Not just limited to big power (diff area), we've seen them done on a Blackbird (Mega), Busa (Mega), Vx (SEi) and mild Crossflow (SEiW) in the last year alone. For the sake of 1m of extra bracing in the back you can remove 99% of these cases...

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