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Roll up! Roll up! Watch them colliding on the straights! Watch them spinning in the corners! Yes, folks, they roar, they squeal, sometimes they even fall over, but they're never dull! Roll up, folks, and watch your Mum's favourite shopping car doing battle with dozens of identical, battle-scarred vehicles! It's what motor racing's all about!
But is it? It's what some people would have you believe about the various one-make saloon championships in this country, but it struck us as just as cynical and short-sighted an attitude as the one at the other end of the scale which states that one-make championships are the preserve of manufacturers and their PR people, that they simply further fragment the saloon racing scene and should therefore be terminated forthwith.
In an effort to make a fair assessment of one-make racing, and aid some of you who may be contemplating competing in one or another of the championships in 1982, we arranged a track test at Donington with examples of three of the most popular one-makers: a Renault 5TS; a Fiesta 1600, and a Metro.
Getting an unbiased test driver was a little more difficult since most of the people we could normally count on for their lucid assessments of race cars had close ties with one or another of the vehicles we were testing. After much head scratching - it's funny how the most obvious options are easily missed - it's safe to say that we got exactly the right man for the job: none other than Win Percy, the 1981 British Saloon Car Champion.
It's often-heard pit gossip that Win's a nice bloke - perhaps too nice for his own good- but it is a measure of the man that he aid an eight hour round-trip journey from his home in Weymouth to Donington, drove the cars with obvious relish, and then discussed them at length with unabated enthusiasm. Safe to say, a man who really enjoys his motor racing.
Actually, our test caused Win to notch up a couple of firsts: it was his first time on a circuit in a front wheel drive car, and the first conventionally engined competition car he had driven in over a year. Needless to say, the world of 6000-7000rpm redlines is a very different one from near 10,000 in the Mazdas.
The cars chosen for Win to test were Terry Blamire's Moss Pit Garage Renault 5, Steve Soper's Patrick Motors Group Metro - both winners of their respective championships - and David Grimshaw's Gould/Immediate Label Fiesta, a consistent front-runner in its championship. In short, there was nothing lacking in the competitiveness of any of the cars.
Getting down to the nitty gritty of the championships, the Staw Renault 5 Elf Challenge is arguably the cheapest in which to field a competitive car. The rules are outlined in an informative and beautifully presented booklet which is available from Renault's charming Competition Co-ordinator, Lorraine Parramore.
When the 5TS is described as a shopping car on the track, it really isn't too far from tne truth. Preparation is based on the RAC Production Saloon regulations with specific rules for the Renaults governing such items as tyres and carburettors. The aim is to keep the cars as standard-looking as possible while allowing modifications which render the French Minis safe to doorhandle around racing circuits.
Weight removal is restricted to items like the spare wheel, tool kit and carpets; items like the door trims must remain. The driver's seat can - and should - be replaced with a high-back competition seat.
Mechanically, the 1300 engine cannot be overbored; the standard Weber 32D1R11 carburettor can be replaced with a 32DIR58; the standard clutch may have a non-standard lining fitted, and an oil cooler may be used provided it fits within the bodywork. In addition, oil sump baffles and modified oil pick-ups are permitted.
The choice of shock absorbers is unrestricted, providing they fit to the original mounting points, while negative camber kits or drivesnaft spacers are illegal. Specified items include the front spoiler and the tyres - only Dunlop 180/550/VR13 SPR2s are permitted.
If you should be contemplating racer; the previously mentioned booklet details all the parts which are necessary - and, interestingly, they are available from any Renault Dealer. Also noteworthy is the fact that Renault backs up each round of the Challenge with a service van (containing emergency parts), a hospitality unit and knowledgeable personnel.
Fiestas are prepared along much the same lines, the basic difference being that, until this year, the Championship has been based on a car that is not available in this country - a 1.6 version, which was only offered in the USA.
Once again, the RAC's Production Saloon car rules form the basis for the construction of a Fiesta Championship car, but there are some significant differences. In the suspension department, these XR2 equivalents must be fitted with Ford's heavy duty suspension kit, while ride height is free, as is the choice of springs. Adjustable spring mounting abutments, however, are not permitted, while alterations in castor and camber are quite legal.
Engine preparation is again as per Production Saloons, with sump baffles, modified oil pick-ups and oil coolers all acceptable fitments. The chosen carburettor is a Weber 34DATR, and the exhaust system must be modified to take a Formula Ford 2000 silencer.
As with the suspension, a special Ford brake kit is specified for the Challenge cars, which provides larger discs and caliper offset brackets. Wheels are the normal 6 x 13 in. alloy items supplied by Ford's RS parts section for Fiestas, while tyres are limited to Kleber 10/20-13RS CM25s, although as a result of recent tyre testing, the 1982 Fiestas will run on Pirelli P7s.
One interesting point for participants in this Championship to consider is that the cars must weigh no less than 727 kilos at the end of a race, and post-race scrutineering can - and frequently does - check out this reqirement.
The Metro is clearly the odd one out of this trio since the allowable specification is far closer to Group Two than to production saloons. The interior trim can be removed, with the exception of the door trims and handle mechanisms; the dashboard must stay, but extra instrumentation may be added, and a full rollover cage, high-back seat and extinguisher are compulsory. There's also a strong recommendation that a four-point harness befitted.
External body modifications are fairly limited: you may bend up the inner wheel arch lips for tyre clearance and fit an ST spoiler. The laminated windscreen and all other glass must be retained, as was the case with the old 1275GT Challenge.
Mechanically, you are forbidden from using externally sprung shock absorbers (although you can fit a rear turret shock kit) and a double-width front anti-roll bar. On the acceptable list, however, are ventilated disc brakes, rear anti-roll bar, replacement of the subframe bushes, negative camber lower arms, and a high ratio steering rack pinion.
Engine mods are even more extensive, and include: Weber 42DCNF carburettor; lightening and balancing of all components; free choice of steel flywheel; EN40B crankshaft; Duplex timing gear; straight-cut, close ratio gears and limited slip differential; altered engine mount material; engine stabiliser kit; ported, polished and gasflowed cylinder head with bigger valves, and an STR930 (649 profile) camshaft.
The result is a strong, powerful motor. Ian Hargreaves of Avonbar Racing reports that his Challenge engine gave a 92bhp reading at the wheels on Tom Airey's rolling road, which equates to about 112bhp at the flywheel - not bad for what is some way from the ultimate spec "A+" motor.
As with the other two formulae, tyres are specified for the Metros. They are Dunlop G43/204 compound slicks for the dry with wets also available, the only stipulation being that you cannot mix the wets and dries.
Win was thoughtful as he leaned back in the driver's seat of his Mazda 323, the hustle and bustle of the Donington paddock going on all around us. "What you have," he observed in his soft Dorset tones, "are three cars, two of which are mildly tuned road cars, and the third.....