A season of two halves

Well, at least I hope it is. As I write we’re in the second half and surely this part can’t be as rubbish as the first one?

Before the season started I did a track day at Snetterton. Well, I didn’t actually do the track day just the sighting laps as it became clear that I had an oil leak. We’ve had a couple of fires in RGB over the last year or so, mostly due to oil getting on exhaust systems so I’ve learnt to be very careful about oil leaks.

The leak was coming from one of the oil lines and it seemed as though the chassis had fretted through the stainless braid around the line and caused a small leak. It was enough to cause an alarming amount of smoke inside the car, though, so I called the day to a halt. The next day I urgently got some new fittings and made up some new lines.

The race season itself started, full of hope, in April at Brands Hatch. This was a really strange meeting in some ways as I was struggling with a misfire for much of the weekend. At one point I thought it might be the Power Commander and when I took it out of circuit things seemed better, until they weren’t again. And so it went on.

The misfire had been worst just at the start of qualifying and it was in the rush to get out that I tried removing the power commander as a last resort. The engine did run right, apparently, for a while then. However, I didn’t really acquit myself too well.

After the rubbish qualifying I started in a lowly 12th place but got away reasonably well. I was then in a train behind Jonathan and Colin. The latter and I are, of course, long term sparring partners and I spent some time ducking and diving looking for a way past. Finally, it resolved itself when Colin had some trouble with a back marker going into Druids and I snuck past. After that I got past Jonathan reasonably easily and set off after Dan in front. I didn’t quite make it but had a fun time nonetheless eventually finishing in 8th place.

Here’s the video of the race:

I was 12th, again, for the second race and in some ways had a similar race. After some initial skirmishes I was behind Dan and gave him a pretty hard time for a while until I dropped back a couple of seconds and finished in 5th place. However, Dan’s engine was chucking out rubbish during the race and he retired it and didn’t reappear for a few meetings, which is a shame.

Again, here’s the video:

So, Brands was a fairly successful meeting and so it was onto Silverstone National. We’ve not raced here for many a year and although it’s a simple circuit it often seems to produce good racing as a consequence of the slipstreaming that’s possible down the Wellington straight.

Yet again, I had a persistent misfire which was annoying me during testing and qualifying. However, it wasn’t bad enough for me to completely stop and I struggled on. I qualified in 6th place for the first race which was quite decent. Mind you, I was over 3 seconds (!!!) behind the pole sitter.

At the start I got a monster amount of wheelspin and got passed by loads of people. Then it settled down into a nice series of laps dicing with Colin and Tony. I think Colin and I, in particular, passed and repassed each other several times, always under braking in Brooklands. Eventually I got away a bit and annoyingly later on let Richard past me easily. I had thought he might be the leader but in fact he was recovering having spun out at Copse on lap 1. All the same, I finished in a decent 6th place. Yes, that’s right, where I qualified. Here’s the video:

It’s hard to tell in the video but the misfire was getting worse. In desperation I changed, again, the cam position sensor. This time putting in a brand new one. The cam position sensor is a strange thing in that there’s an engine fault code that tells you it’s not working but no one has ever seen that code appear. However, the sensors seem to be really fragile and frequently die. So, even though I was sure it wasn’t the problem I changed it anyway.

I started race 2 in 6th place, again. I made a half decent start and brutalised my way past Jonathan. After that pretty much nothing happened, so there’s no video here. I stayed in 5th place the whole way. Most importantly, the misfire had gone which is probably why I stayed a few seconds ahead of Colin the whole time.

Back in the garage, I started doing something I’d been meaning to do for a while. If you can remember at the end of last season’s Snetterton round my engine died with Honda crank death rattle disease. My garage contained two engines that had died; one with a rod through the side of the barrels and one with a weird rattle that Andy assured me was a little end. Surely, I thought, one of those engines must contain a crank that’s usable?

So, I stripped them both and ended up with a huge pile of bits; here’s the start of the process.

The engine with the rod in the side was, indeed, obviously faulty. However, the one with the supposed little end problem seemed fine. Interesting that later on when talking to Mike Smith, who does engines for me, he said that he’s never seen a little end problem even though people often opine that that’s where an issue is.

All the same, I now had what looked like two decent (if a 2009 Honda crank can ever be said to be decent) cranks. I’d get the broken engine rebuilt soon.

So, with the first two meetings out of the way I was doing reasonably well. Not leading the championship but doing well in the second division “Sporting Cup” bit. Shame it didn’t last…

The next meeting was at Anglesey so we packed up and made the long journey up there for the test day. The start of the test day was fine but then I smelt the tell tale pong of roasting oil and called one of the sessions short very rapidly. With some investigation it became clear that I had another oil line leak. Luckily this time I had the parts I needed and managed to fix it in the paddock. The final session, where I should have been going for a time was rendered useless by the circuit staff amazingly allowing the session to continue with a monster amount of oil on the track. I came in and reported it to the circuit staff; I was very disturbed that they really couldn’t care less. Odd really because this has been such a great circuit in the past. All the same, I should have been set up for qualifying…

But… in just about the last lap of qualifying there was a truly horrible noise from the engine and I stopped. With some discussion back in the paddock it was clear that something dire had happened in the gearbox. James was of the opinion that 3rd gear had fallen to bits because the same thing had happened to him a while ago. In fact, there is a company that sells strengthened 3rd gears for CBR1000s for just this reason. So, we packed up and made the long trek home after watching the first race later that day…

Back home I was now in a bit of a quandary. I had one engine with Honda death rattle disease and another with a dead gearbox. Things were not looking good for the upcoming Snetterton round. I spent ages wondering what to do and eventually perhaps did rather too much!

First of all, I went hunting for a new engine and found something on eBay that looked half decent. What’s more, it was a more recent engine and hence would hopefully be less liable to suffer from dead cranks. To cut a long story short I decided to put this one in the chassis and to that end did a sort of partial strip down. I peered intently at the gearbox, albeit without splitting the casing. I took off the head and cleaned it all up and re-did the valve clearances. Finally, I took the clutch out to see if the plates were in spec. They were so I put it all back together as you can see in the photo here.

I took apart the engine that failed at Anglesey to see the gearbox. I was quite chuffed with myself in working out how to split the engine without actually taking the head off. It was indeed third gear as you can see in the photo here. Both parts of third gear were in bits and one of the selector forks was broken. Luckily, as a consequence of previous failures I’ve got a selection of gearboxes so I re-installed the best of those and put it all back together.

Finally, I took the engine that had failed at Snetterton last year to Mike with the two cranks I’d exhumed. He’s since rebuilt it with one of those cranks. Here’s a photo of the damage on the crank that had failed. You can see the teeth that have broken off the main output drive. (That gear meshes with the clutch basket.) Come the end of the season I think this is the engine to go in the car as it’s the one that’s been rebuilt by someone competent.

So, I’ve now got three engines. What’s more, I think I’ve got enough bits to make another one but perhaps it’s best to keep them as parts. In any case, I put the eBay purchase in the car ready for the Snetterton round.

Do you get the feeling of impending doom? Me too. Snetterton went well for the first part of the test session and then there was suddenly no drive. My first thought was that the clutch in the engine really hadn’t worked well although I’d checked it. I coasted to a halt and pushed the car back to the paddock. At least I had a spare clutch with me.

However, investigations showed that it wasn’t the clutch. Something really weird had happened in that the end of the left hand inner CV joint had sheared off the end of the stub axle. Here’s the offending part perched on top of the CV joint after disassembly later on.

I did have a spare CV joint. However, that suffered a weird failure when installing it so the Snetterton race meeting was called off. So that meant out of 8 races so far I’d actually managed to start 4 of them. Not good.

The whole CV joint issue was resolved later on but to complete the story this is what I’ve now worked out, with lots of help from the rest of the paddock. For this particular part (an SKF joint) the snap ring that holds the joint in the diff is actually too feeble and the joint pulls out of the diff. Slowly it works its way out until the diff splines are only mated with the end of the shaft which fails by shearing across at the snap ring groove. Luckily the other spare part I’ve got is a Shaftec part (it was a nice chap at Shaftec who actually helped me identify the part originally) and that has a much more brutal snap ring. To be honest this story isn’t entirely satisfactory as it doesn’t really explain why the broken off parts and the snap ring end up right inside the diff and not on the floor. However, it’s all I’ve got at the moment.

So, that was the end of the first 4 meetings. I’ll write up the next one, at Silverstone International, soon. Heads up, the story isn’t so doom laden…

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