Mallory Park Track Day – 20 April 2022

For my 30th birthday last year my friends clubbed together to get me a trackday voucher. I sat on it for ages worried that Helga wasn’t ready, and eventually decided in January that I needed to just book it before the voucher expired. Finally the day came round yesterday!

The day was in a sessioned format, where novices got the first 20 minutes of each hour on track. I was absolutely terrified that either a) I’d do something really wrong or b) Helga would fall apart on track so a day with novice only sessions seemed a good choice for my first time.

E Gammie / Mallory Park circuit map

The organisers seemed really chill and friendly which was another worry, and Helga sailed through the noise testing.

The noise testing queue
Very nervous at this point

In the first session Greg sat in the passenger seat with me. I didn’t drive very well, I felt a bit overwhelmed by watching out for flags or other cars as well as getting a feel for what the car could handle. Still, I got round, passed a few cars, certainly wasn’t the slowest on track and most importantly was giddy to get back out.

Greg drove the next session with me as passenger, and because he has this annoying ability to instantly be good at stuff was within a lap pushing harder than I had, in a car he wasn’t at all familiar with.

I find it hard not to hit the rev limiter in Helga because she doesn’t tail off/I’m rubbish

For the third session I went back out this time with Brad in the passenger seat. After seeing Greg throw Helga round I felt a chunk more confident, though I still struggled with the classic mistake of turning in too early even when I knew I was doing it, especially in the Esses.

Unfortunately it all went a bit wrong in the fourth session – a few laps in she cut out just after Lake Esses. I rolled to a stop on the grass and the session was red flagged (oops). Luckily it was downhill back down the track to the pit entrance so with a push to get going from the marshalls she was able to roll right back to our place in the paddock.

It quickly became apparent that the fuel pump wasn’t running, and following the wire back to the relay I noticed one of the pins had come unsoldered from the relay connector. Touching the wire back on didn’t fix the problem and, rushing to get her running ASAP we spent a while trying to source a strong enough ignition live from the back to run the fuel pump off. This worked but only kind-of, because none of the existing wires back there were thick enough to run the pump at full speed.

So, back to the engine bay. During this time the battery had become completely flat, and only when jumping for the millionth time did we noticed that the engine loom was rubbing on the auxiliary belt! Pulling back the sheathing revealed a big mess. The belt had revealed the insulation on two wires, which had then shorted on each other. Because I hadn’t fitted fuses when doing the T5 conversion, the wires had continued to heat up until the insulation had melted off the full metre length, as well as unsoldering the connection from the fuel pump relay.

With the problem finally sourced, we borrowed some insulation tape and patched up the damaged insulation while someone else leant some lock wire to fasten the wire back to the relay connection in the absence of a soldering iron. Unfortunately after this she still didn’t run! We were now really starting to worry about being able to drive Helga home at the end of the day.

By this point there were only two sessions left so I suggested Greg take out the backup car, his Volvo 940 (Rüda). Incredibly he was again really fast, passing some much more capable cars like a MX-5. Imagine that lump bearing down on you! It was great how easy going Javelin, the organisers, were, they didn’t mind at all swapping cars.

Glorious/Bizarre jet sound

For the last session I took Rüda out. I’d driven her a few times before but not often, so I eased into it and was amazed how within a few laps I felt completely at ease. Rüda felt so much more stable through the high speed Gerards, it was really easy to ride out the understeer while Helga felt to me really nervous through there, particularly on turn in. Helga was much more responsive to throttle input and the back felt quite light if you lifted even slightly. I’d like to work on that before another track day.

Anyway, just before I went out for that last session we got Helga running again – turned out one of the pins had melted right out of the big loom connector.

All in all, it was a shame to miss quite a few sessions but not that big a deal – I still felt like I got loads of track time and it could have been so much worse. I’d been worried the newly rebuilt engine (or worse, the gearbox) would let go but while she was running she felt incredible. Quite a few people, including the driver of a brand new M3 came over to remark how quick she was. In some ways it was lucky she didn’t run all day because I’m sure the tyres wouldn’t have lasted! It was such an amazing day and we cannot wait to get back on track.


Paddle clutch

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had no end of trouble getting a clutch to hold in Helga. After fitting the ball bearing turbo last year it was completely letting go any time the boost got to about 1.2 bar and instantly hitting the rev limiter. Once that happened on a drive, you’d had it and would have less and less grip from the clutch thereafter.

Finally with a track day at Mallory Park looming I bit the bullet and ordered a stage 3 paddle clutch from Black Diamond. It arrived about a week later, at which point I panicked because I realised a) the flywheel needed skimming for the warranty to be valid and b) the clutch needed 300+ miles of bedding in before being driven hard.

I timed myself removing the old clutch and in under 23 minutes it was off, including removing the bonnet on my own plus finding tools and a block of wood to hold the clutch pedal down! You can tell I’ve done this job way too many times now.

I’m still in the bedding in phase so can’t comment on it’s holding ability, but I was pleased that the driveability of the paddle clutch is almost the same as a regular clutch. The weight is pretty much the same and there’s just a tiny bit more snatchiness and propensity to judder in the take up. I was expecting horrors so that’s fine with me!


SAAB 900 rear axle rebuild

At the start of the year I decided Helga’s back axle was looking scruffy, so thought I’d pull it, clean and paint it and put it back together with new bushes. As usual, it turned into a bit of an epic.

SAAB 900 rear axle
Axle comes off in an hour or so

The back axle came off easily enough, though stripping it down beyond this state was harder work – The bolts that go through the aluminium blocks on the front of the trailing arms were well and truly seized in. It took a full knotted wheel in the angle grinder to get everything cleaned up, then the parts were painted with Buzzweld Chassis In One. The paint dries really quickly but for the price (£32 a litre!) I don’t really rate it. It’s hard to brush smoothly from the tin and the end result seems to chip quite easily. Finally new Powerflex black bushes were fitted throughout, apart from the anti roll bar which is only available in the softer purple compound.

Rather than refit the panhard rod, I decided to make an adjustable one. Because the car is lowered, without shortening the panhard rod the axle will sit slightly off to one side.

M14x1.5 inserts with left hand thread at one end were pressed and welded into 25mm OD/1.5mm wall tube. I added a plug weld for extra security.

At either and M14 rose joints meant enlarging the holes in the axle and body mounting brackets, while spacers made up the difference in width.

The finished panhard rod against the original

The rear calipers were rebuilt with new seals and painted though this is the only photo I seem to have of that.

It’s a really simple job especially compared to the fronts. The pistons pop out and four bolts hold the two halves together. There’s seals between the halves that you also want to replace, and they go back together like any other normal caliper.

Now it was time for the bad part – rust. I was expecting to find some spots that needed cutting out and patching but I think in total I did about a dozen patches. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

First the fuel tank and exhaust came off to gain maximum access.

First work was a pair of patches to form a new seam on the right hand seam of the boot floor…

Then a bunch of simple patches all around the boot floor and above the fuel tank…

Before tackling a tricky corner spot in the back corner of the boot/rear arch which had to be tackled as three pieces…

All of the noise deadening and underseal was chiselled off by hand (very near the end I realised a knife attachment in a multitool takes it off like butter). Finally any remaining surface rust was treated with Bilt Hamber Hydrate 80, before paint, seam sealer, and Bilt Hamber underseal – Dynax UB on the underside and Dynax S-50 in the cavities and insides of panels. I replaced the sound deadening mats too but I don’t have photos.

And back on the road, covered in grinding dust! Now Helga has every single bush replaced with poly I was expecting terrible discomfort on the road, and it’s taught but not absolutely atrocious in the way Peggy was.


Another turbo

I suspected the Chinese T3 turbo I’d fitted was burning oil, so it didn’t take much to convince me to try a modern ball bearing unit to see how much better they spool. For a while I considered a genuine Garrett GT2860RS but instead took a punt on a Pulsar GTX2860R. This is a copy of the GT2860RS but with an upgraded billet compressor wheel, at about 2/3 the price of the Garrett.

Unfortunately I’ve been a bit slack taking photos lately so you’ll have to look at a stock photo

Fitting it wasn’t super easy, mostly because the new turbo uses a T25/T28 flange which is smaller than T3. I bought a Mamba adapter which has the effect of spacing the turbo about 25mm forward in the bay. This meant all the pipework I’d made so far needed tweaking.

I think I improved the downpipe quite a bit this time. Rather than shooting straight down and back I added some more bends to better sweep between the gearbox and driveshaft tunnel.

From above…
…And below

After that I wrapped it again to try to keep the heat away from the rest of the bay. S0, how different is it? Initially, absolutely crazy. The actuator my turbo was supplied with opened at 20+ psi so I had mega boost, enough that the clutch had no chance of holding. It didn’t just slip a bit, by 3.5k revs it would let go completely and the engine instantly hit the rev limiter.

The cure was a Mamba adjustable actuator. This is a really nice thing, supplied with a bunch of springs from something like 7 psi to 25 psi. I went with the softest because on a car with a separate boost controller, the actuator pressure wants to be set quite low because the controller can only block air from the actuator, not supply extra (obviously).

The car still really needs properly tuning in T5 suite to properly take advantage of the modifications, but keeping an eye on the AFR gauge it’s not running dangerously far out in either direction. It’s proving really hard to find someone to tune the car properly, two remote T5 tuners have let me down now. The last one seemed to know less than I do (which is very little). A complete waste of money. Anyway, before I can do that I need to sort a clutch that holds the power. For now I’ve reduced the boost to just about the point it can more or less handle.


Momo Prototipo

I never really liked the four spoke SAAB Momo wheel she came with, so I treated her to a Momo Prototipo. Suits almost anything and a bit more ‘race car’ than before.