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.....Having said that of BL's one-make contender. Win also had some final words on the other two: "The Renault and the Fiesta are basically roadgoing cars and, without taking anything away from them, they have obviously been prepared on limited budgets. They were interesting to drive all the same. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."
Win's comments will doubtless have given you an idea of the basic differences and similarities in the cars as far as driving them is concerned. It is a fact of motor sporting life, however, that you don't just sling a car together and win a one-make championship with it. It takes careful assembly of the basic car, a watchful eye on the competition, good driving, and an ingenious - or perhaps more correctly, slightly devious - turn of mind to keep your car ahead of the rest of the howling pack.
We can't do too much about the first three, but we carried out a little detective work to discover some of the tweaks used by the top drivers incur three chosen categories.
In the case of the Renault, aside from the compulsory items, there are three types of shocks available - cheap, medium and expensive - and results, on the whole, tie in with how much you can spend on them. Interestingly, the set-up of a winning 5TS suspension is much more sophisticated than at first might be thought, with height biases built in front to rear, and driver's side to passenger side. In addition, the steering box height, torsion bar height and castor/camber are all critical areas as far as the handling is concerned.
In common with all three cars, a blueprinted engine with hand-picked and matched internals is essential if you are going to have any sort of power advantage over your rivals down the long straights.
A visit to Barry Lee divulged some of the Fiesta modifications, for although Barry runs a car in the Championship, as it is on behalf of Ford, it has to be built strictly to the regulations with off-the-shelf bits. "These other modifications could cost you another couple of grand - that is, just to take it to someone who knows how to do the mods," explained Barry with a characteristic grin. .
"It needs to be someone who knows how to machine the wheels to make them run perfectly true, tune the suspension to get the car going as fast as possible in a straight line, leave the wheel bearings loose; an individual who knows to run automatic transmission fluid in the gearbox so there's less drag, and fit high mileage driveshafts from another Fiesta because, although they're absolutely knackered, at least they're nice and loose and you can repack them after every meeting. All these things add up to small amounts of horsepower, and since the engines are generally quite equal, some cars are a lot quicker in a straight line simply because they have all these modifications.
"That's motor racing though - I'm not condemning them at all."
Blueprinted motors produced by the well-known Formula Ford engine builders - Minister are presently the most popular - are the norm in Fiesta Challenge cars, and although illegal, some drivers run a cut-out switch on the alternator to gain another Vibhp.
An interesting addition in Barry's own car is a fly-off handbrake for getting out of tight corners - must be a legacy of his rallying days!
Metro tweaks are, at the moment, still a slightly grey area, not because of any lack of novel ideas, but because there are several schools of thought on how best to improve the Hydragas suspension system. Working on the theory that it's hard to beat a winning combination, we spoke first to Steve Soper about his car.
Metro Challenge development started from square one at the beginning of the year, and the main aim for all the runners was to dial out the heavy understeer exhibited by the car in more or less standard trim. For some, it was a problem they struggled with for the entire season; for Steve Spper, two test sessions with his Metro convinced him that Hydragas wasn't going to work. Drastic problems therefore called for drastic measures, and his way around the rules was effectively to by-pass the Hydragas, and simply use it to set the ride height and pre-load the bumpstops.
That's right - the Metro runs hard on its bumpstops, for if the suspension is set only Vie-V4 in. away from the bumpstops, the dreaded bumpsteer sets in down the straights. Steve's car is also fitted with a thick 5/a in. anti-roll bar at the rear as well as a pair of shock absorbers to damp put what could otherwise be the de-stabilising effect of Hydragas.
"We tried quite hard in the early part of the season," Steve elaborated, "and we got absolutely nowhere with the Hydragas. Once we fine-tuned it on the bumpstops, it was transformed. The car is now nicely balanced and you can work with the steering through the corners. In fact, the quicker it goes, the nicer it gets.
"It's why that car works and others were only starting to achieve that sort of handling toward the end of the season."
Apparently there's only one drawback with this rather ingenious modification: if you pump up the Hydragas on a cold day to give exactly the right pre-load and ride height, cornea warm day and the settings will be all wrong, thus causing an immediate degeneration in handling.
One man who has opted for a slightly different approach to the problem is Ian Hargreaves. He has opted to make his immaculate black Avonbar Metro torsionally very stiff. It doesn't have rear bumpstops fitted, but does sport a beautiful, Mo Gomm-fabricated rear shock turret conversion.
In Ian's estimation, the big problem with the Metro is understeer created by too much negative camber and not enough castor. Strut length and the pressure in the suspension system become critical areas as far as making the BL box handle.
So what is the future of one-make saloon racing? Recession or not, there's no question that the crowds have been dwindling as far as national-level racing is concerned. Is it the fault of the proliferation of classes; the apparent fragmentation of saloon racing? If so, the single-make championships must share some of the blame.
We asked Win Percy that question first: "The only one-make championship with which I have been involved was the BMW County, which was fantastic. Once at Brands, 1.2 seconds covered 14 cars on the grid, and I know that happens in some of the other championships as well.
"I would hate to say that they have caused fragmentation because so many guys live for their particular championship and they're not fortunate enough, as I've been, to have done Tricentrol. All the same, it could be part of the problem; there's just too much going on and there are too many club events. As a result, people aren't attracted to the bigger ones all the time."
Never one to mince his words, Barry Lee reckons there can be no such thing as too many one-make championships: The Renault 5s, with their vast grids, are absolutely superb, as are the Fiestas and the Metros. I'm all for one-make championships. They make for good close racing, they're a breeding ground for young saloon car drivers, and offer a relatively cheap way of going motor racing.
"What saloon racing needs is promotion, Barry summarised, "and all I can say is, please remove the plums from your mouths, a lot of you. You aren't running £4 million Formula One teams. Talk to people a lot more, tell them about the sport you're doing, and be proud of your Metro, Fiesta, Renault - whatever class of racing you're doing - and the crowds will start to come back."
In view of the alternatives, perhaps it's worth taking heed of Mr Lee's comments.
For further information on the saloon championships mentioned in the feature, the following are the people to contact:
Fiesta Championship: Stuart McCrudden, 3 Plains Road, Little Totham, Maldon, Essex.
Metro Challenge: Ron Elkins, BL Motorsport, PO Box 72, Cowley, Oxford.
Renault 5 Challenge: Lorraine Parramore, 49 Broadlands, Netherfield, Milton Keynes, Bucks.
Top-Left - "It needs someone who knows how to machine the wheels to make them run perfectly true, tune the suspension to get the car going as fast as possible in a straight line, leave the wheel bearings loose; an individual who knows to run automatic transmission fluid in the gearbox so there's less drag, and fit high mileage driveshafts so they're nice and loose." Barry Lee