Car Prep 2014

So at the awards night, I’d managed to put Mr Rodemark on the spot, and ask him if he was happy to help me out with the basics of winter car prep in readiness for the season ahead. Since early last year, he’d generously advised me to visit his firm, Autopoint Specialist Engineering in Hailsham.

If you’re not in the slightest bit interested in car mechanics, change the channel now. This blog update is probably not for you!

The final plan was that I would head down there for some rudimentary guidance on prepping the car, and for him to check the wheel alignment, tracking and camber. The date was set: Valentine’s Day of all days – what an understanding wife I have (not that I checked with her beforehand…!) So on a very wet and wild Friday morning, I hitched up and headed off.

IMG_2392First Tow of 2014

By 10am I was there, and had a bit of a nose around. There were trophies everywhere in the staff room, every conceivable metal working machine and device in the workshop, tens of old fibreglass body panels, a fully kitted out garage, a donor car and Kevin Hansen’s championship winning Swift. Graham’s car was tucked away, not having seen the light of day since returning from Croft last year. It’s clear Graham has everything at his disposal to compete and help others to get there with his 20 years of rallycross engineering experience. Hopefully some of that would rub off today.

IMG_2397A Handful of the Trophies on Display

IMG_2398Kevin’s Car & Spare

Within half an hour, Graham was working his magic checking all four corners of the car were straight and true, or if the car was more akin to a parallelogram than a rectangle. Gladly, the tracking front and rear was spot on and square, and so were the cambers. I had a little bit of toe-in on the front left which his capable colleague, Tristan, dialled out whilst Graham was busy trying to run a business.

We then got Maud up on the car lift and inspected the rear shocks. Both were leaking oil and Graham recommended I contact Pete for some reconditioned ones in time for the test next weekend. More jobs to do…

Tristan and Graham relayed their experience of removing and replacing the shocks, and we moved to the front. First, we drained the gearbox oil and they showed me how to refill it. I’d completely underestimated how much gear oil I would need, so I’d need to order some more and top it up back home before the test.

IMG_2400Maud at the Spa

They then lead me through removing and servicing a front shock absorber, giving me the knowledge to go home and do the other one. Now I’m fairly mechanically minded, but never had the opportunity to get stuck in with enough knowledge not to hurt myself or break something in the process. Again, their invaluable experience meant I simply had to memorise the procedure and make sure I didn’t muck it up.

Once this was done, and with the weather closing in, I loaded up again, extended my gratitude at Graham’s hospitality and generosity, said my farewells and headed off. It seems the time he’d spent helping me out was more than he’d spent on his own car, and he wasn’t sure he’d make the Lydden test. His removal lorry conversion is coming on very nicely though – he’ll be a champ with all mod-cons this year!

It was then I made another decision. I’ve desperately wanted a GoPro for in the car since I started, but made a promise to myself not to do it in my first year. I started talking to some friends in photography, and I’d seen the fruits of onboard Swift action with Chris Mullen courtesy of Kev Noon.

Onboard footage is something I really enjoy watching. Lydden Hill last spring being a nice example. I want to contribute to the rallycross material available, and also have it for when rallycrossing is a distant memory so I can say “that’s me driving there…”. It has to be the best way to support memories.

So the following night, I ordered an oil drain tray, more gearbox oil, grease for my shock service and some all-important funnels. Little was I to know that the pesky funnels would delay my order and leave me with one night before the test to get everything done. I also got clearance from Wife HQ to order my GoPro as a (very) early birthday present.

Whilst waiting for my deliveries, I removed and cleaned the front left shock, just awaiting the grease to reassemble. The GoPro arrived on Tuesday, but then I found out my oil order was delayed. I phoned and expressed how crucial it was I had the delivery (my gearbox was only half full), and it finally arrived on Friday lunchtime. Meanwhile, I’d fitted the rollbar mount in the car and done some tests with the various settings on the GoPro to get it ready for Saturday’s test. Hopefully, I’ll get and share some nice in-car action over the coming months. Watch this space.

So on the Friday evening before the test, I reassembled the front shock, topped up the gearbox oil (what a faff – need a new tool for next time, not just an old inner tube), replaced the wheels and warmed up the engine to drain the engine oil. I’d not wanted to run the engine until the front quarter was back together in case I damaged a driveshaft or worse. I was very much playing Mr Careful.

Having heated the engine, I opened the sump plug to have a hot jet of oil shoot backwards under the car, completely missing my carefully placed oil tray. Finally, at 10:30pm I removed the oil filter to find my replacement K&N filter was the wrong size!! Everything was conspiring against me, but I kept calm. I know I said in my last post how I was better prepared, and well planned for the test, and mentally I was. However, you still need a working car, and I’ve learned the lesson that even simple jobs can be impacted by the smallest things – deliveries being a high risk.

I would have to wait until Unipart or Halfords opened on test day before I could reassemble the bottom of the car, drop it off the stands, refill the engine oil, hook up and get to Lydden. But signing on was from 7:30am! Oh dear, so much to do and so little time. It had all gone wrong.

I stayed up late to wind down with a glass of Rioja, contemplating the itinerary for Saturday, but kept drawing blanks. I was dependent on garage opening times, so had to work around that. I got to bed at 1am, planning to be up and loading the car again by 6:30am and hope everything fell into place. I also had the rear shocks to swap out…

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