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The Club's First Racer! - Part 1 - Getting Set Up

This is the first in a series of articles by Mark Bennett who has finally scratched an itch and taken up racing in the VTEC Challenge series.

We hope you enjoy reading and following his progress!

After doing around 20 odd trackdays I’d started to get the itch to do some racing. I’ve got a huge passion for the S2000 and given my car was already track prepared, I started to look at what series I could do in the S2000 if I raced it. I also looked at Caterham series, and Mazda MX5, Civics etc, but in the end I chose to stick with the S2000. The main factor for me was that I just love the way it drives on track, and as a fan of the Best Motoring series and seeing what the car can do in race trim, it seemed like an obvious choice.

The car on track prior to race modification…

The series I decided on is called VTEC challenge, a nice series designed for only Honda VTEC cars!  I contacted the organisers to get a feel for the series, and got a good feeling that it was a friendly series (as friendly as racing can get!) It looked like mine would be the only RWD car in the series…!

So once the car and series was decided, the next two large obstacles are obtaining a race licence (ARDS) and converting the car to MSA spec and to the regulations of the series.

I completed my ARDS by doing a 1 day course at Castle Combe, which consists of a practical and theory test, and also a medical. Quite a nerve wracking prospect but it actually wasn’t too bad. I passed and got my license!

As I mentioned, the car was already track ready, but would need some major changes to get it compliant. It would need a certified roll cage installing, fire extinguisher installed, harnesses, safety cut outs, rain light, transponder etc. On top of that there were all the performance aspects such as stripping the car bare for weight reduction, geometry setup, corner weighting, race tyres, removable steering wheel etc. This was quite a big decision, as the modifications would mean the point of no return for the car, with the cage and interior stripping being nearly impossible to reverse! Further to this, I’d have to purchase all the race complaint clothing to race. This meant a new helmet, overalls, gloves etc.

I have very little time to do any work on the car, so I quickly decided on a trusted local place called Veysport near Bournemouth who have worked on my cars for many years. I discussed my plans with Andy Vey, and he had completed many race car conversions before so I knew the car was in safe hands. I purchased all the parts I needed, most via Dixon from DMS, and supplied them to Veysport for installation. The final product is nothing short of amazing and I’m really pleased with the quality of the work! The work took just over 4 weeks to complete, which is amazing given what is involved. What can’t be seen from the pictures is the difficulty of stripping the car bare along with all the electrics such as air con, and alarms, and still having a functioning car. On top of this, fitting a roll cage to such a small chassis and ensure the hardtop still fits is tricky. The cage comes in kit form and each piece has to be tacked in place and welded. There are also a lot of fine details like covering the fuel filler lines, how to open the doors with no handles inside, fitting the Lexan windows, and plumbing in the fire extinguisher to MSA compliance.

Some pictures of the car being stripped and built

Hardtop gutted

Cage going in

I chose GT3 orange for the cage!

Cut to the end of the job and this is the result!

Andy and I at the ‘handover’

Car ready for the track…

 Of huge help so far has been Dixon from DMS, supplying parts at last minute and also race and setup advice. Also our resident oil expert, Simon (Si2k) for supplying me with a lot of Castrol Edge oil for racing! Now it was about getting the car on track now, and getting used to the new feel of it with all the weight shed.

So with the car mechanically completed, the final thing to complete was the geometry setup and then some testing prior to the first race. With over 100kg removed from the car and the addition of the cage and other safety items, the car would need corner weighting and a more race orientated geometry setup. I took the car to Reid performance near my home, for them to check it all out. Amazingly the car still had almost exactly 50/50 weight balance, to the point where it required no adjustment! So just some lowering and camber tweaks were required.

With the first race only a couple of weeks away, the realisation that I had limited time in the car, had never raced before nor had I been to Pembrey circuit where the first race was being held.

I decided it was going to be too much of a struggle to get to Pembrey before the first race, so to cancel out one of the variables I took the car to Rockingham circuit to try it out. I ran out of time to trailer the car and ended up driving it there from Bournemouth, which was not good for the ears! Never again! S2KUK member Simon Nix came to the circuit to join me, and took some great pics and a short video!

The car performed great! The Dixcel brakes were faultless as usual, and with a few calls to DMS for some suspension tweaks, the car felt really good. With the feel of the car sorted, it was back home to tuck it away until race day… and some viewing of YouTube footage of Pembrey circuit!

A little more on the series

 There are 7 races in the season at some of the finest tracks in the UK, and each race consists of a 15 minute qualifying session and 2 separate 15 minute races. Some of the races are over 2 days. There are 4 main classes. A production class for 1600cc lightly modified cars, a Production class for 1800-2300cc cars, Tuner class for modified cars, and a Super Tuner class for heavily modified cars. Most of the cars will be in the Production class, and my car will be in this one too.

A nice promotional video here:

 The calendar looks like this:

• 31 March/1 April - Pembrey
• 19 May - Oulton
• 10 June - Silverstone
• 21-22 July - Croft
• 25-26 August - Snetterton
• 30 September - Mallory
• 21 October - Donnington (allcomers)

Keep your eye out for Part 2 - The First Race!


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