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CCC
May 2002
CCC May 2002
No Holds Barred
Ultimate track car - 12 of the greatest modified circuit cars do battle
 
So finally, to the cars with the wheels sticking out, and those that are generally a little less suited for dual purpose use, especially in the weather conditions prevailing over the two days of the test. That said, the DAX was the exception to the rule, and the wet might have even been a good time to try John Cellier's DAX four-wheel-drive V8. Quite apart from the lunacy of inserting all this hardware into something of Westfield dimensions, the quality of Cellier's handiwork was breathtaking and deserves a full feature all to itself. For me, the fact that he did almost everything except the welding himself and could produce work of this quality from within the confines of an ordinary garage - in addition to the thought behind the method - was enough to qualify for star status. If you need convincing, just look at the bonnet scoop and sidescreens which were formed with aluminium sheet and a hammer over a wooden former, or the heater system, which uses a Sierra central locking motor to operate the air flap. Unfortunately though, for our purposes, it was not really a track day car. John hadn't built it as such - although after a few laps you could easily see how a few changes could turn it into one.

The basis is a DAX variation on the Westfield/Caterham theme which normally features the entire Sapphire Cosworth 4X4 engine, transmission and drive-train crammed within those dimensions. Except in this case Cellier wanted a V8, so DAX made him sign a disclaimer absolving them of all responsibility. They need not have worried. The V8 is a 3.9-litre Rover with a bottom end by specialist John Eales with Cellier-fettled heads and a remapped Range Rover injection system which churns out about 300bhp and drives through a Cosworth 4x4 Ford MT75 gearbox which rattles with a vengeance on the overrun despite a professional rebuild. Brakes are a mixture of vented V6 4x4 fronts discs and calipers and vented Cosworth 4x4 rears.

The Venue

Anglesey or Ty Croes, as we know it, first opened to the public in July 1997 after it was returned to the Bodorgan Estate following nearly 50 years of army occupation. Unlike most UK tracks on ex-military land (usually because they were used as airbases), Ty Croes has slopes and inclines which test driver skill to the limit - a welcome change from circuits which are flat and rather featureless.

Just over a mile long, it's a tricky little place to drive. Tight and twisty places usually are, not because they require bravery, but for exactly the opposite reason. Slow corners are always the most difficult - both in respect of car set-up, and for the driver - and even when you have an optimum chassis, it is all too easy to ruin a good lap by trying too hard. Anglesey is also difficult because the crucial (and only) fast bit at the circuit's western end is sequence where (as is often the case), the preceding bit determines how effective you are through the next part - here it is made more difficult by a steep ridge running north to south. Tidiness at Ty Croes is everything, and if you start getting scrappy and overdriving the car, the lap times will just escalate. A good tour requires both discipline and patience.

CCC May 2002
The main problem I had was fitting in (no change there) but in this case it was practical rather than social because hands hit legs within a half turn of lock and because for some reason the clutch pedal was way higher than the rest. This meant you couldn't push the left leg froward and move the thigh from the wheel rim. On track, the suspension was very soft - especially the damping - and the car would gently float like a boat on a wave, then if you weren't careful committing the car to the bend, the rear end would rear up and slew into oversteer. It was a surprise, given the lazy nature of the car and yet quite gentle but needing a correction which the ergonomics wouldn't allow. That said, if you were careful not to let this happen and gently tweaked the car into the turn, you could then power on and the car would simply track through the bend with all 300bhp working to the max and without pushing wide at the nose - which most 4WD cars do. The engine was nice too, in a gentle sort of way. It seemed to make no difference what revs you used because the power felt very similar throughout the range, and it reached its 6000rpm limit in no time. Meanwhile, because each bank of cylinders has its own exhaust box, you heard more of one than the other, and max sounded like half speed. All of which was in keeping with the car's nature - if not with its appearance, which has promised fireworks.
Which brings us to the SBD Westfield and the Caterham R500. the fastest of the group mainly because they are the least compromised for track use, but then they are also the least suited for the road and both were trailered to the event - though at a pinch they have been driven. The Westfields's owner, Martin Bailey, was not present, but to oversee proceedings SBD engine man Dick Hulbert was there. He revealed that the 1.6-litre Vauxhall's otherwise standard cylinder head had been fitted with a set of very mild cams, and the standard valves and single springs had a set of Titanium caps. Pistons were standard too (with pockets cut for the valves), and so was the bottom end - although there was a dry sump lubrication system. Obvious addition was the set of four aggressive-looking tapered throttle bodies which are managed by an MBE management system, all of which helps liberate 185bhp at about 8000rpm.

The gearbox is a Ford MT75 Sierra five-speed equipped with just four dog-engaged Quaife ratios and the chassis is standard Westfield with independent double-wishbone rear round an Escort Cosworth differential and double-jointed driveshafts. At the front is SBD's variation on the wide track double-wishbone set-up similar to that which appeared on the V8-engined Westfield of the early 1990s. It's all beautifully done, as is the cockpit with its very deep unpadded race seat and minimal aero screens. After that, it's a bit of a strange cocktail. Dick and his helpers fetched a huge lorry battery from their trailer which was then plugged in to fire up the car. It does have an on-board source and having stalled the engine, I do know it will fire up, but apparently it won't do it repeatedly. Then the throttle pedal was so heavy that at first I feared to tread on it in case there was problem and I broke something in the linkage. Not so, it was meant to be like that. Once on track, you forgot about it (except when trying to heel and toe) and took pleasure from the engine which pulled well from low enough in the range that four speeds in the box would probably never be a problem, and which sounded like a real racer all the way up to its 8500 limit. The shift was slick too and never crunched, and because the gate was wide and had only four slots you just flicked the lever across the gate as fast as you liked without thinking about it.

CCC May 2002
CCC May 2002 And then to complement that, the handling was great and the balance excellent. You could take more speed into the very fast School corner than in anything else and then hit the power hard all the the way through while you kept it balanced with the tiniest amount opposite lock. And what made it especially easy was the way the chassis stayed nicely flat all the the time and didn't pitch and rock - exactly what knocks your confidence in very fast corners, and also gives the tyres more to deal with. But, despite this general excellence on the track, and its great little engine and box, there are several big buts about this car. Apart from the accelerator pedal, which should be fixed, the oil temperature headed inevitably towards 120deg C within five laps - or just as I was working to the max - so it definitely needs a better oil cooler. The tyres were Avon slicks with s simple cut tread pattern on nine or ten-inch rims, which are definitely not road legal and would have improved the handling on almost any of the other cars at the test. Plus, why not have a bigger battery. If you stall out on the track for any reason, you might need a tow back to the pits, which is never popular with your fellow track day-ers, finally, why the (undoubtedly impressive) effort with a 1600cc engine when there are no capacity classes at a track day, and when an almost standard 2-litre will give about the same.

The answer is that the car was a bit of a joint effort between Bailey and SBD's Steve Broughton, built to provide a showcase for various components, one of which was the kit of parts for the 1600 Vauxhall engine which, Broughton points out, is lighter and in unmodified form, cheaper than the older 2-litre Vauxhall which is now getting quite scarce. To duplicate the motor in Bailey's car would cost about £5500 fully overhauled and complete with dry sump and injection, so it's a fair argument. The car, Broughton reckons, has involved a lot of special effort suit the owner but to build one similar would cost somewhere between £25-30,000 depending on the number of goodies, but complete and ready to run, and incorporating all the suspension modifications which seemed to work so well.

So, the Westfield has to go in a class by itself - partly because of its performance, but also because it can't strictly be compared with the rest, which are 100 per cent genuine road-going cars. But there's a little bit of that about Jason Krebs' Caterham R500 too, but because Caterham do incline the head towards road usability a masochist could at least have driven it though the freezing winds and lashing rain to reach our test. Krebs is no longer bothered about that, and admits to buying the R500 because he saw it as the ultimate in its category, but he also admits to being "too competitive" to limit his use solely to track days, so he does race the car. He has also spent a great deal of time and money in search of more performance. The standard R500 is petty well specified with (in road trim with silencer) 220bhp from the K-series and a Caterham designed six speed gearbox, but Krebs has ported the head, installed larger inlet valves and a different exhaust cam, Omega pistons, a full Motec M800 'wasted spark' sequential injection engine management with full track map and datalog facility, an Apollo de-aeration tower for the dry sump oil tank and a modified airbox with extra air inlets to complement the special silencer which he specified and which was made by BTB. This lot - from which there can't have been much change from £10,000 - pushed out 256bhp at 8700 and 167lb ft of torque at 7300rpm. Or, quite a lot from a 1.8-litre engine.

The most pleasing thing according to Jason, is that it will do it all with the track day-legal silencer (one which he tried during his research lost 18bhp) and the extra grunt, he reckons, was the only way to deal with the aerodynamics of a Caterham once you start getting up to three figure speeds (well, that's his excuse anyway). The engine drives through a Quartermaster twin-plate five-inch clutch and the Caterham six-speeder with uprated first and third gears to a Suretrac '2002 race spec' slipper diff, and is cooled via a triple bypass radiator with electric pump. There is a 65-litre fuel tank installed for the 10 mile races where refuelling is not allowed, while on the chassis side there is a full rollcage, bigger rear brakes, the option of three different front ani-roll bars and a set of Bilstein dampers ( the biggest difference to the handling - says Krebs). Tyres are ACB10 Avons for the dry on standard R500 6-inch front, 7-inch rear magnesium wheels with CR500s for the wet and slicks for the occasional track day - although not this one.

CCC May 2002
But is it all worth it? There's no doubting the power which is very quiet, smooth and impressive and the lack of temperament. The engine works best up at the top (Jason uses over 9000, but I tried not to) bit it will pull from lower down without coughing or stuttering. The problem though, was the chassis. The power would light up the rear wheels in third (and sometimes fourth) usually just at the apex of the corner, and then the chassis would both squat and lurch. In this case, I agree with Phil that for the sort of car it was, it was too soft, especially as when the rear end bit again because you had backed off, the extra bounce from the chassis made it difficult to keep your line. The softness in the spring and damping - or maybe the geometry - meant it was far too pitch sensitive and application either of power or brakes rocked the chassis and agains made difficult to place on the road. Familiarity, according Jason, means he doesn't worry about this so much and feels confident to lean on it harder through the very fast corners, but I still think I'd rather see if it could be sorted.

Why? Well, because if you try and keep it all smooth (which is my preference) and get the car settled neatly by braking that little bit earlier, the front end pushes wide - something which was also true of the standard R500 which we tried here but I don't remember that being so sensitive in pitch. All of which begs the question, has Krebs chosen the wrong route, or is that as good as it gets? Hard to say without a proper test which was not the object of the two days, but although this was the quickest of our group, another 40bhp at a track where the aerodynamics don't matter so much, should have found more than three-quarters of a second over the standard car, especially as that didn't have the benefit of ACB10 tyres. On the plus side, Jason is a self-confessed fiddler and has a car which will allow him to do that. It is definitely quick enough to thrill and is also compliant with several sets of race regulations. Forty grand plus is a lot of money for a car for track days but if you get a competitive racer out of it as well it sounds like better value.

CCC May 2002 TESTER'S VIEW by Phil Bennett

To some people a Caterham is the real thing with a direct link to the original Se7en. For me a Caterham is just an expensive Westfield and I'm sorry but I just can't understand anyone who spends over £30K on a R500 (perhaps they need an expensive girlfriend to quell their spendthrift ways!) The R500 was very quick but I think the power exceeded the ability of the chassis . It was difficult to place on the road, was too softly set up - even after the owner increased the high speed bump on the damper - and the brakes weren't very good. It is a super quick car - quick enough to make you grin- and in a straight line was the quickest thing on the test. However it is a quasi-race car with an all-up cost of over £40K and big money engine rebuilds after a few thousand kms. And for me it misses the point. Fun factor eight then, but then minus eight because it ain't much fun spending over £30K on an R500 then another £12K on the motor upgrade - and then another few grand more in engine rebuilds.

The Westfield was a different story. It was easily the best balanced car on the track and the speed you could carry into corners reminded me of a single-seater. Understeer on the limit could be remedied by perhaps more front camber but nevertheless is was simply fantastic. SBD has done a great job with the motor and the set-up - if you have a Westfield you should pay these guys a visit. Not only that but the preparation was fantastic - it was race car clean. Only the feel of the throttle pedal let it down (too stiff). But again I think this car misses the point. No windscreen and the need for a 'jump' battery to get the thing started - you have to ask the question for the £20,000 plus this thing costs why not buy a proper racing car? If you have to go through all this fuss get an old Formula Three or a Supersport Mallock and experience real speed.

The Dax was a different kettle of fish altogether. This was the car I was most looking forward to driving because on paper these things really look the business - light weight with a big motor and four-wheel-drive... But the driving experience was totally different to the expectation. As I pulled away down the straight I felt like I was in a 1920s' Bentley. With an almost GT quality to the steering , gearbox and seat - all built for comfort rather than speed - it was difficult to hussle it around what is s tight little track. And all of this wasn't helped by a clutch pedal set way too high and springing that was too stiff. This is undoubtedly a great road car, and looks superb, but it's no track machine.

Tech Analysis
Cornering speeds (mph)
Corner Westfield Caterham Dax
School 86.3 86.3 75.8
Abbotts 56.6 56.0 47.5
Hill Rise 78.9 79.4 75.0
Radar 52.9 53.0 51.0
Hairpin 35.2 35.5 31.7
Douglas 67.5 66.3 63.8
 
Make/Model SBD Westfield Caterham R500 Dax Rush V8
Engine SB Developments Vauxhall 1.6XE 16v engine. Throttle bodies MBE Systems ECU 1800cc K-series with steel bottom end, big valve head, racing QED flywheel, freer flowing induction system.. 4-litre Rover V8 with balanced rods/crank/pistons, Real Steel cam, ported & polished head, other mods
Transmission Quaife 4-speed Pro box, LSD Caterham 6-speed gearbox with LSD 4WD Ford MT75 gearbox
Suspension SBD-designed double wishbones front, multi link Westfield rear Double wishbones with Eibach springs & Eibach adjustable dampers Double wishbones with single coil springs over monotube dampers
Brakes Wilwood 4-pot piston calipers front 2-pots rear, Ford discs Front:4 pot AP vented discs. Rear: Caterham Race 2 pot vented Front:standard Sierra 4x4. Rear:vented Sierra Cosworth
Wheels Image 3-piece alloy rims Magnesium alloys 6-inch front 7 rear BBS RS split rims (7x15/8x15)
Tyres Avon cut slicks Avon ACB10 195x45R15 Toyo Proxes T1-S
Max Power 191bhp@8000rpm 256bhp@8700rpm not known
Max Torque 133lb.ft@7000rpm 167lb.ft@7300rpm not known
Lap Time 48.08 seconds 47.50 seconds 52.05 seconds
Top Speed 109.5 mph 109.7 mph 104.7 mph
Supplied by SB Developments Jason Krebs John Cellier
Comments Race car grip that goes on forever. But why not buy a real race car? Staggering power. Goes where it's pointed. Too much for chassis? Superb craftsmanship. Built for comfort rather than speed. Road car.
Overall Rating 4/5 4/5 3/5
 
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