FF1600 Shakedown Report

With our first race in the FF1600 Swift SC92 fast approaching we’re happy to say that we’ve completed a thorough shake-down and we’re really pleased with the results.

Our shake-down process started way back in March, which thanks to lockdown seems like only yesterday and years ago at the same time! Our first shake-down at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground began in the way that many mornings at an airfield do, drizzly. We decided to use Bruntingthorpe for a couple of reasons. First and foremost it’s close, which is always reassuring when you’re a little uncertain how the shake-down will pan out. There’s only one thing more frustrating than a car going wrong on shake-down, and that’s a car going wrong on shake-down and you having the pain and frustration of a two hour journey home, filled with what-ifs and could have beens! What’s more, Bruntingthorpe, particularly early on a Saturday morning, offers you a quiet track with plenty of space. Allowing you to truly concentrate on the car rather than the traffic around you. Finally the ability to book by the hour makes it a sensible shake-down choice, allowing you to put in the few laps needed and head home. Whilst the cost per hour is higher than a general test day, the flexibility, track space and ability to only sign up for a couple of hours make it more economical in the long run.

Having just completed a full car rebuild, thoroughly starting from scratch, rebuilding every bit and bolt, the plan was for me to turn a few laps and make sure everything was working as expected. Whilst our rebuild process had been thorough there’s truly no way of being completely certain that everything is behaving as it should, know way to know for certain that engine, gears, clutch, brakes and steering are working in harmony, until you’re behind the wheel. Once I was satisfied we were running as we should, the plan was to hand the wheel over to Paul, who I am sharing driving duty of the car with over the coming years, for what would be his first experience behind the wheel of a single seater. Before loading the car back on the trailer and taking it back to the workshop for a thorough check over.

So, away from the plan and back to that drizzly morning. Our initial impression of the car on track? Very positive!

I pulled back into the pits after five laps, happy that everything was working as it should and ready to hand the wheel over to Paul. Once in the pits we carried out our standard thorough visual checks, along with checks on the wheel bearings, wheel nut torques and tyre pressures. Thankfully these checks revealed a small issue, the team spotted a tiny oil leak from the sump. Caused by two of the bolts, holding the sump on, vibrating loose. This was despite the engine being previously run on the dyno, where stress, strains and vibrations run slightly different to when in situ on track. It was a good spot and a quick fix. Paul was lowering himself into the cockpit in no time.

His first taste behind the wheel of a single seater, we predicted a quick whistle around the Bruntingthorpe circuit … 15 laps later we wondered whether he’d lost the pit entry! Thankfully he returned, a grin beaming through his helmet.

Paul reported that he’d been enjoying it so much, he’d only returned to the pits as the brake pedal had gone soft. A quick ‘MOT’ check revealed a wobbly front wheel, in all directions, a tell-tale sign of a worn wheel bearing despite these all having been replaced in the rebuild. With this in mind we loaded the car up and set off to the workshop, happy we’d achieved our aims and with a few niggles to investigate.

And as is typical with all airfields as we closed the ramp on the trailer the sun began to poke through the clouds.

Once back in the workshop, and further investigation possible, the suspected worn wheel bearing turned out to be a worn wheel bearing housing in the upright. This despite us crack testing the uprights, we did not measure the bearing housing for size or roundness. With the bearing still being a push fit when assembled, we presume the housing must have gone oval, allowing the bearing to rock slightly one way, gradually worsening to a point it caused pas nick off whilst driving. Thankfully Swift Cooper, (LINK) the original manufacturer, stock all uprights for the SC92 car, a simple fix of ordering a new one!

With this fitted and the rest of the car being thoroughly spanner checked, ensuring no other bolts had vibrated loose making a break for freedom with the sump ones, we set about flat patching the car. Flat patching is a process of setting the spring platforms and suspension geometry on a perfectly level surface, thus ensuring the accuracy and repeatability of the cars set-up.

We have to thank Alan Cooper from Swift Cooper and Ed Moore from Formula-Ford for their guidance on base set-up. An almost infinite amount of adjustments on the Formula Ford made their guidance invaluable, and we can’t thank them enough for sharing their expertise. It’s information which would have taken us years to assemble with the limited track time we will enjoy, with busy race calendar commitments in varied championships.

In the final days before lockdown we were able to attend a Test Day with the FF1600, another drizzly morning awaited us, this time running Silverstone National. It was a busy Test Day, with clients from the BRSCC Mazda MX5 Championship and Supercup also in attendance, running in the closed wheeled sessions. Earlier this month we were able to repeat with a Test Day this time at a slightly sunnier Oulton Park. The time was invaluable and gave us the perfect setting to push the car harder, simulating the stresses and strains it will be under when the race season commences. Whilst allowing us as drivers to develop our feel of the pace and handling characteristics of the latest car on the fleet.

It pains us to say by luck, but it certainly wasn’t by design, we experienced both wet and dry conditions on both of these test days. Creating the perfect opportunity to evaluate areas where the car could be improved, whilst keeping an eye out for any other potential issues.

Using our research and the insight that was so kindly shared to us the car was well balanced from its very first grip of Bruntingthorpe tarmac. Allowing us to focus on those small tweaks to damper and anti-roll bar settings to suit our driving styles, not leaving us with weeks of work and a long list of handling issues.

Testing complete, we feel confident and ready, with our eyes fixed on the 4th July!

James Tucker

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