THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.10
  October 2000

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Pit Stop.
By: Luke Spark & Keith Spark.
A ll was set in place some time ago to be on the grid for this years HRCC all Historic Race meeting. I had to be there on the track mixing with the other fantastic Group Na Nb Nc cars, especially the car that I have grown up with since going to watch my father compete in his Mini Cooper S well before I could even spell Mimi (as I use to pronounce it). It had to be a Mini of course and it had to be just like Dads old number 33, bright electric blue with red & white traditional stripes as in the 60s & 70s cars. My twin brother Daniel and our father Keith, had built a Mini with the assistance and support of Paul Gulson from Mini Mania when Daniel and I were still at school age 14 or 15. We ran this car in club sprint meetings at Lakeside, Qld Raceway and a few times at Mt Cotton hillclimb. It was a very mild form of a sports sedan Mini or Mini 7 for the NSW series but we never got there. Late last year the Spark Racing Team members of Daniel, Dad and myself made the decision to abandon the idea of making the old car into a Group Nc as some of the body would have been too hard to bring into line to the rules. After discussions with Ken Nelson, who dad knew from way back in what they describe as the good old racing days, it was decided to look for another body and transfer all the running gear and get a new motor built by Warren Smith from M.R. AUTOMOTIVES Redcliffe, sponsors of the previous car.

A new / old body was found F.O.C from Geoff Trew Motors-Gold Coast (another long time Mini racer). The new car was built from December 1999 to May 2000 just in time for my first open Level 3 competition at the Lakeside May 2000 meeting. I got through this meeting without too much drama, other than the gear shift almost coming out in one race, not being able to find third from the start of another race and nearly having two other group N cars in the Minis boot. In all a great weekend, licence signed by the Clerk of Course for being a well behaved driver and the thrill of being amongst all those fantastic cars and friendly Group N drivers.

But now for the event I had waited for. The Historic Meeting 2000 and more importantly the Jack Lacey Memorial Race. The car was ready well in advance. We had run it at the Mini Owners Club Show & Shine sprint meeting at Lakeside, a great day, and found the car would not rev as we would have liked. Could only get 6000 out of it. A dyno inspection found all to be in order. We then ran the car at a Sparc sprint meeting two weeks prior to the Historic just to clear the cobwebs out of the car. Daniel entered while I chewed my nails on the sideline. Into just two & a half of the first timed laps the blue Mini was brought into the pits with a distressed look on Daniel’s face. " It made this strange noise, didn't want to go and smoke came from the dash into the car, the temp gauge went up all of a sudden." Has it over heated? Wait a while, start it up. Still no good, take the plugs out. Number 4 has run too lean and number 3 has disintrigated. Looks extremely serious at this point. Matt Read, who was at this sprint meet, wondered what all the heads were doing buried under the little blue bonnet. At this point I must thank Matt for his assistance. After much discussion and theory on what the problem was, the head was quickly removed to reveal number three piston had started to melt down and number four was about to go. The valves for three and four didn't look too good either. Oh!!! looks like the Historic meeting is in doubt. Where's the mobile, lets give Warren Smith a call, he will still be at the workshops.

Warren lives around the corner from Lakeside so he suggested we bring the car around to take a look and make a decision from there. Yes, the motor can be rebuilt, run in & tested the weekend prior to the Historics. A quick strip down Saturday PM, allowed Warren to lift it out on the Sunday. Looks like the Historic weekend will see No 33 race.

The following Saturday morning we arrived back at Warren's to complete the installation, then over to the track for testing. There’s a buzz of enthusiasm as Warren’s instructions are given. Three laps, no more, at up to 4000RPM. Pit, check for any oil and water leaks, check the plugs, then out again for more laps up to 5500RPM. All seems to be right as we increase the rev range, when suddenly there is a lack of power on the main straight, the temp gauge has gone up all of a sudden. So, I switch off and pull over to the side and wait for the trailer to pick up the car.

A check of the spark plugs has once again revealed that the car has run lean. No 3 plug is shot and No 4 is just as bad. It appears the same has happened again. Removal of the head in the pits shows damage to number 3 in particular and 4 piston. Not running the following weekend seemed likely once again. What the hell is causing this to happen? Warren has gone through everything from the last rebuild. Nothing seems to be out of place, timing, dissy checked and graphed, carby settings okay, fuel flow etc are fine. Warren says he has never experienced anything like this before. The same symptoms and result with two motors. How simple can you get, a bloody 45 MM Weber carby on long neck manifold, Cooper S dissy, plugs okay, fuel pump rate okay.

Back to Warrens to start another motor strip. Much discussion and head scratching on what is causing the problem. Warren is determined to have the motor ready for the following weekend. He has been successful around Minis for too long to let this beat him. The plan is to have the motor back in the car by Thursday and finish it Friday and take the car to the track, test out the motor and hopefully leave the car there ready for Saturdays qualifying. We just made it on the Friday to test out the motor for last private practice for the afternoon. I got approx 10-15minutes, but more importantly the motor performed. Mind you, I didn't rev the motor much past 6000. We are there for the Saturday qualifying session. Again the plugs are still a little lean but no where as bad.

Another strip down of the motor did not reveal anything unusual. The rebuild was done in the same manner. In fact the same rings and bearings were re-used. The best four evenly weighted pistons used from the rebuilds. The only main changes made were the long manifold had further work to match the ports better, we took out the air induction pipe feeding air from the grille area to Weber box, and changed the unleaded Avgas we had been using for the past twelve months, to leaded Avgas 130 octane. On race day we changed the type of spark plugs. Mains and air jet sizes were altered during qualifying and races on Saturday and Sunday. As you can imagine after a good qualifying session on the Saturday and the first race also on the Saturday my confidence grew to rev the car higher and push it harder as it seemed all was well. And that it was all weekend with the car getting down to 67.3.This is still some 2.3sec from Ken Nelson’s time. I had the Hoosier tyres on for the first time. Boy, you can notice the difference with them on. The car handles a lot better, less understeer and better grip under Dunlop bridge and now full noise onto the front straight. Expensive at $230 per tyre but I had to try them.

It was a fantastic weekend of motor racing. All the classes had good fields, especially Group N which was split into two classes, up to 3000 and over 3000 for the scratch races and the best 22 qualifying cars for the Jack Lacey Memorial Trophy Race. My qualifying times put me on grid number 11 of 20 cars in the 0 -3000 and position number 22 in the main feature race. I was really pleased to actually make the main race grid with around 35 cars entered including five Minis, Ken Nelson, Fred Sayers, John Stratton, Darren Borg and myself. No interstate Mini drivers though, which was disappointing. Ken Nelson was fastest qualifying Mini with a 65.08, Fred Sayers 66.37, Darren Borg 67.30, Luke Spark 69.78 and John Stratton 70.02.

Two 5 lap races on the Saturday and two 5 lappers on the Sunday plus the 12 lap trophy race for qualifying cars. In the first race on Saturday with a field of 20 cars, Ken Nelson finished second to a much more powerful Ford Capri, Darren Borg 7th just ahead of Fred Sayers 8th by two seconds, John Stratton 10th and Luke Spark 11th. Only drama in this race was Fred using the inside ripple strip onto the front straight sending the little black car off balance brushing along the guard rail to damage the side mirror and put a few dents and scratches along the side of the car. All Fred could say was "when did they put in those curbs". All Minis qualified for the feature race, but unfortunately Ken Nelson and Fred Sayers were non starters after deciding to swap paint work in the second race on the Saturday. Ken had a spin (rare occasion), his excuse was he thought he would give the other Minis a chance to catch up to him coming out of Karussel but unfortunately Fred Sayers did catch up and hit Ken’s car head on causing extensive damage to both cars. How will Fred explain this to Bill Westerman who owns the car. Well you see Bill its like this.... Both Ken and Fred were okay. Darren Borg finished 7th, John Stratton 10th in his first race with the ex Bob Paige Group N car, and Luke Spark 11th.

First race on Sunday saw 17 cars front for a 5 lap event. Best of the Minis was Darren Borg with a well deserved 5th after a race long tussle with a Twin Cam Escort, followed by Luke Spark 9th. Unfortunately, John Stratton had a DNF with a badly miss-firing motor. An all out effort was made by John Stratton and helpers to find what was causing the problem but to no avail. This is what grass roots motor racing is about. Darren Borg had a leaking oil cooler and it looked like there would be only one Mini left, but a quick removal of John Stratton’s cooler into Darrens car saw him join me to fly the flag for the Mini fans.

The Jack Lacey Memorial race saw 31 cars do two parade laps then line up on the grid as the crowd lined the fences to watch the exciting 12 lap event. From the start, John English in the Charger, showed that this was to be his race and finished some 6 seconds ahead of second and 9 seconds from third. As expected, the big Charger, V8's and Toranas etc, shot away from the under 3000 cars. Darren Borg finished 18th and Luke Spark 26th after loosing five places when he ran off the track at hungry (best spot to run off if anywhere) to avoid hitting one of the Ford Capris as it was about to be lapped. Better the dirt than a third Mini with front damage. A quick pit stop to (change the underwear!!) see there was no damage under the car, then back out to complete the event so as not be listed as a DNF. A good race, one that I enjoyed a hell of a lot, especially as the car was now running like a dream. The past two weeks virtually out of my mind by now.

The last event of the day was an invitation Group N scratch race, one race after the Jack Lacey event. Hardly time to take off the helmet and gloves before we were back on the grid. Only 11 cars started and Luke Spark finished 6th and Darren Borg, after a quick stop and go penalty for jumping the start, 7th. Fred says this is probably why Darren beat him on the Saturday??? Jumped the start. I had a great dice with David Patterson in his Dato 1600 which seems to getting faster. End of the day, time for some relaxation, a cold drink and socialise with the other Group N crew and the trophy presentation. To my amazement I took out the encouragement award, sponsored by Mini Automotive Ipswich. Thanks to Mini Automotive and it couldn't have come at a better time.

I would like to say that without the fantastic help and support from Warren Smith at M.R. Automotive in Redcliffe, I would not have made it to this meeting. I am much indebted to his valuable hours of time in rebuilding the motor twice in two weeks and his friendly support he has have given in 1999 and 2000. Special thanks also to Keith(Dad) brother Daniel, Fred Sayers, Dwayne Sayers and Ken Nelson. Much appreciated guys.

Long live Mini Racing
Luke Spark