Belgium Delivers an Eventful Retro Rallycross Weekend

The Bowes racing team had high hopes that Belgium would bring the Retro Rallycross success they’d been looking for.
Labman culture 25 min read

Katie SimpsonPublished 31st Jul 2016

The Bowes racing team had high hopes that Belgium would bring the Retro Rallycross success they’d been looking for. Although we were still close on time, the workload was much less than previous events, and although we didn’t have time to test the Golf, due to last minute problems with the brakes, the car all seemed to come together in time.

Since the Golf last raced, it has undergone a major overhaul, with a new gear-box kit, clutch, drive-shafts, gear selector, tyre profile and suspension setup. This meant that there was a lot to test for the first time in Belgium.

The weekend seemed to run smoothly, with a more spaced out schedule. The Retro Rallycross team only raced their first heat on the Saturday after practise, leaving Sunday for the last two heats and the final. On the Saturday morning, the Golf received huge interest from locals and competitors that were racing that weekend, and it was a great opportunity to show off the Retro Rallycross cars to an interested crowd.

The first heat was fairly successful - the track was proving very difficult to learn, but I knew that more track time was the only way to improve this. After heat one, we discovered that the overheating issue that we previously experienced was still present. We had to try and make a temporary fix overnight to keep the car cool and safe for the next day. So out came the cardboard and duct tape, and we started ducting all the radiators to try and increase the direct air flow, and improve their performance. We also raised the bonnet at the back, and made two large cut outs to aid with air flow under the bonnet. These small modifications proved to be effective and reduced the running temperature of the car.

The second heat on Sunday was an eventful race. After a jump-start from the Golf, resulting in a time penalty, the race was primarily focused on learning the track for the future races. The jump was caused by driver error - simply pre-loading the clutch so much that the handbrake wouldn’t hold the car stationary, meaning it crept forward well before the lights turned green.

The third heat was missed by the Golf - this was due to a fuel pump malfunction preventing the engine from starting, or running at its full potential. The Mini went on to finish 2nd in the race after two of the opponents ended up taking each other out in a corner. This left a space for Stewart, in the Mini, to pass both drivers and continue to defend his position.

Bowes racing had an action packed final to say the least. Stewart rolled the Mini after trying to make a pass on a Porsche. This proved too much for the car’s capability, as the back-end of the car lost grip and sent Stewart straight into the wall, resulting in a gentle roll onto the roof. Luckily Stewart was alright and was able to get out of the car quickly, however, since the car was on the track, the race had to be red flagged.

The Golf had completed three laps at the time of Stewart’s roll and was running slightly too warm on the grid of the re-start. I made the decision to race anyway, and try to finish, knowing the risks. The re-run final saw an increase in pace from the Golf, and was able to hold onto the Porsche for the first few laps. Sadly the Golf’s performance dropped and then overheated on the third lap, resulting in me having to retire from the race and accept last place.

Luckily, the only problems with the Golf experienced during the weekend racing were pre-existing problems. The new turbo that was fitted at the beginning of the season is water-cooled - this increases the engine’s running temperature, meaning the cooling system will need to be upgraded. We were hoping the engine would last, and allow us to postpone the upgrade until the end of the season. With the increased temperature from Belgium proving too much for the Golf, the upgrade is now the highest priority for the next round in Lydden.

The decision has been made to replace the radiator with a much larger unit - this will allow more cooling potential. We will also move the radiator into the boot of the car as this will allow more air flow than in the previous position. The Golf will not gain any more performance, it will only make the car safer to run and more efficient.

Another problem that hindered the Golf’s performance in Belgium was a pre-existing fuelling issue. This is the same issue of fuel starvation that occurred at Lydden Hill, in April. Due to the harsh cornering in racing the fuel inside the tank moves side-to-side. If the pickup port is on the inside during a corner, the fuel will not be able to reach the pickup port. This starves the engine of fuel and temporarily stalls the engine. This was occurring on the finishing straight at Belgium, making it much harder to keep up a quick pace.

The weekend proved to be a very good testing opportunity, on a very difficult track. It is now time to act upon the feedback from the event and push to get both cars repaired and working. This will allow us plenty of time for testing before Round 6 at Lydden Hill, on the August bank holiday weekend.

During the season, we have learnt a lot about the Golf. Since this car wasn’t a Rallycross car previously, and we had never built a Rallycross Golf before, we have had a lot to learn. We still have a lot more to find out about the car and change to make the car as competitive as possible.

Without the backing from Labman, this year would simply not have been possible and I would not be in the same position without them. With the amount of driving we have managed to achieve, and the issues we have found and fixed, it is only a matter of time before the Golf is competing at a high level, and challenging other cars for the top spot. At this point the majority of my time and money can be focused on developing myself, to allow me to drive the car at its full potential. I simply can’t thank Labman enough for their support.

Thank you to everybody who was there to help at the weekend, and we look forward to having Steve, from Labman, back in the pits helping at Lydden. We hope to see you there.