Sprint-racer John Loudon's end-of-season report
For the 2023 season, a freshly built engine was fitted to the Force TA racing car which had a new CNC-ported cylinder head from a specialist in the USA. Pre-season rolling road tuning showed a healthy increase in power over last season’s engine build, so I was feeling optimistic on improving over last year’s 8th place in the British Sprint Championship. However, the racing gods were to throw a few spanners in the works to deal with along the way, so read on to find how it all panned out…
The first event of the year was at Cadwell Park in March. Not surprisingly the weather was awful with rain throughout the day which wasn’t helpful in getting me off to a good start to the season, but I still finished in the placings to get some points on the board.
The next event was at Anglesey in early April. Things went much better and I set new personal best times for both days and even came 2nd in a run off. The new more powerful engine was showing signs of a worthwhile investment.
May saw two events. Blyton Park and Lydden Hill. Both were marred by a newly developed, and seemingly untraceable oil leak which involved lots of engine bay cleaning and oil topping up between runs. However, I still managed to complete each run and still do reasonably well in the placings at each event. I was now laying 4th overall in the standings.
In June, we visited Pembrey for the first of two visits in the year to the south Wales circuit. Saturday practice revealed that we still had an oil leak despite replumbing the oil system beforehand. Otherwise, the car was going extremely well and I managed to go below the existing 1100cc class record by over 2 seconds and finished 3rd in one of the run offs, having qualified 2nd fastest. However, Sunday saw us heading home early after the engine had developed a knocking noise which turned out to be a failed big end bearing. I think ‘gutted’ is the word. Disappointingly, I had now slipped to 6th overall.
A lot of hard work and a lot of running around had a rebuilt engine fitted to the car just in time for the second visit of the year to Lydden Hill in mid-July. Surely a rebuilt engine would solve our oil loss issues but seemingly not. More head scratching was needed. Despite the setback, a 3rd and 4th place finish raised me back up to 4th overall which lifted spirits.
Early August saw us taking the long road trip and ferry crossing to Kirkistown in Northern Ireland, just south of Belfast. This is one of my favourite events of the year and I always look forward to it. A modified oil breathing system had been fitted prior to the trip in an attempt to prevent the elusive oil leak, but seemingly to no avail. Soldiering on I gained some 4th and 5th place finishes which just about kept me in 4th place overall on the ferry home.
A visit to Snetterton over August Bank Holiday weekend was the revealing moment. Demonstrating my oil tank level to an interested party which required the engine running at high revs and the engine cover off, had a bystander notice a high-pressure spurt of oil from the cam chain tensioner to cylinder head gasket which turned out to be unnoticeable at low rpm. For those wondering why this was not discovered during the engine rebuild in June, the cam chain tensioner is bolted to the cylinder which was refitted without dismantling it as there was seemingly no reason to do so. With confidence now renewed, I was able to concentrate on driving and lowered the class record by over 3 seconds, and finished just 0.04 seconds behind the winner in one of the run-offs. So close to the holy grail of my first run-off win.
A return visit to Pembrey in early September had me confident that issues were resolved. Practice on Saturday had me immediately on the pace and my first lap was fastest overall at the split, but then more misfortune arose. The drive chain on the motorcycle-engined Force TA racing car broke whilst accelerating on the exit of the last corner causing me to coast over the finish line. A hastily replaced drive chain enabled me to take to the subsequent qualification run in the nick of time. Part way through the run a strange noise came from the engine followed by a loud clattering noise. What now?
This time it was terminal and the engine internals had made a bid for freedom. Game over. The diagnosis is that the drive chain breaking on the previous run had over revved the engine whilst it was under acceleration causing the failure of a conrod or two. By the end of the weekend, I was still laying 4th overall in the championship with rounds at Blyton Park later in September, and Anglesey, Knockhill and Castle Coombe all still to come in October.
Not wishing to throw the towel in at the chance of improving on last years overall 8th position finish, I set about replacing the engine with the now rebuilt, previously removed engine from the incident in June. This was an attempt to make the Blyton Park event at the end of the month, just two weeks after the heartache of Pembrey. God loves a trier, and I was duly rewarded for my hard work and efforts as I not only made the event, but I was immediately on the pace and set a new class record by over 0.5 seconds on the Eastern circuit. This was followed by achieving my holy grail of my first ever run-off win. I was unaware of what I had achieved until my fellow competitors crowded around my car as I returned to the paddock in order to congratulate me. The feeling was good. Sunday also saw good results with a brace of 3rd place finishes and increased the gap between 5th and my 4th place overall in the championship.
Spirits were high as I arrived at Anglesey the following weekend from the previous weekend’s trouble free and successful adventure. Saturday was wet but I still managed a 2nd and a 6th place finish. Sunday took a while for the track to dry out which held back proceedings due to a number of offs and incidents. Only one run-off could be completed as a result in which I finished 4th on the longer International Circuit. This was enough to improve my overall score and widen the gap between myself in 4th and 5th place overall.
A one day visit to Knockhill for the penultimate round of the championship on the clockwise layout was next. This was a wet affair with heavy overnight rain and a flooded track during the day holding up proceedings. Nevertheless we survived and finished 5th and 6th in the run offs. I was still 4th overall but now 5th place man had started to close the gap.
Mid-October was the final event of the season at Castle Combe. Mathematically I could be caught and be overtaken for 4th place overall by 5th place man. Castle Combe is a fast circuit and better suited to powerful cars and not motorcycle-engined cars. My luck was in — as I completed qualification in the dry and almost immediately as I returned to the paddock it began raining leaving me at the top of the leader board. The rain subsequently stopped in time for the run-off and the track dried up. Still determined to finish as high as I could, I secured 4th place in the run-off which gained me an additional point to my overall tally, and more importantly higher up the placings than 5th placed man. My work was done. I could now not be caught for 4th place overall in the championship and I was ecstatic!
What you have just read rewarded me with the following awards and accolades. What an eventful season to say the least.
- Overall winner of the Motorsport UK Sprint Leaders trophy and Longton and District Sprint Series.
- 4th place overall in the British Sprint Championship.
- Winner of the 1100cc racing car class in the British Sprint Championship and Hillclimb and Sprint Association Speed championship.
- Winner of the Britannia Trophy in the British Sprint Championship (awarded to the competitor who scores the most compared to their respective class record in rounds in England, Wales, Scotland and Wales).
- Winner of the Saxon Trophy in the British Sprint championship (awarded to the competitor who scores the most compared to their respective class record in rounds in England).
- My first ever British Sprint Championship run-off win.
- Lowering the 1100cc racing car class records at Pembrey and also setting new class records at Blyton Park and Snetterton.
My heartfelt thanks to Laser Tools Racing and to my wife for their continued support. What a team! I hope I did you proud.