Wednesday, March 24, 2010

shelby can-am race report – march 2010

Sideways in a Shelby…
by Pierre Martins

DSC_8350 Nestled in the Andaman Sea on Thailand's Indian Ocean coastline about 850km south of Bangkok is a little tropical paradise island known as ’Phuket’.  It has next to nothing to do with this race meet or motorsport in general, but if you deliberately miss-pronounce the name ‘Phuket’ in the English lingo it takes on an alternative meaning which perfectly describes what went through my mind when I heard a sudden clunking noise coming from the engine just as I reached the table top section at Zwartkops Raceway five or six laps into first practice on Friday morning.

I just knew it was terminal, knocked the thing into neutral, hit the kill switch and coasted back to the pits where we got the rear end of the car up in the air for a look-see. A short process of elimination later and the cause of said clunking noise manifested itself in the shape of a broken crankshaft, but before I could slip into my finest Phuketian accent again the Shelby Can-Am guys whipped out a replacement engine and started stripping the broken crank engine from the chassis…

IMG_4216 But perhaps I should first tell you how it came about that I found myself behind the wheel of a Shelby Can-Am car for the March 2010 Zwartkops round of the Pro-Tour Series. They say the best things in life are unplanned and I can vouch that it certainly was the case on this occasion.  Rocket Rod Cole Edwards called me barely a week before the race asking whether I would like to do an arrive-and-drive thing for this event, I said Yes of course, one thing lead to another and I was entered as a guest driver in Rudi Patour’s car with the car being race-prepped courtesy of GT1 Workshop. 

And just in case you’re not familiar with Shelby Can-Am cars, I can tell you in a nutshell that what you have here is an 850kg space-frame sports-prototype car with 330hp and 410nm torque on tap from a near-stock NISSAN 350Z V6 engine coupled to a 4-speed crash-box with locked diff, double wishbones with adjustable anti-roll bars front and rear with locally made SAX shocks, coil-overs and four-pod Willwood clamps on double vented discs, running on 13-inch-wide rear and 10-inch-wide front Good-Year full slicks, making it a pretty nifty and quick package. 

Zwart200310215b But let’s get back to Phuket and the broken crank.  Apparently this was not the first time a crank cried enough in the Nissan 350Z engines as used in these cars. The SCA association did take the problem up with NISSAN South Africa who said that they’ve experienced no such problems with road-going 350Z cars where they use rubber engine mounts as opposed to solid mounts in the Shelbys, so the problem was attributed to harmonic vibration or whatnot in the engine that caused occasional crankshaft failure.  So I was just unlucky that it happened to me - I’ve always said my luck is of such a nature that if I had to fall into a barrel of boobs I’d probably come up sucking my thumb…

Anyway, I missed the subsequent practice sessions of course, but the SCA guys went out of their way to get me back on track with Gerald and his crew from GT1 Workshop working their asses off to replace the engine in time for the Friday afternoon qualifying session, which was pretty much one of those times where you just have to put two and two together real quick and do the best you can.

Zwartkops is basically a two part track  with fast sweeping corners and reasonably long straights between turn 2 and 5 where it’s crucial to keep momentum. I refer to that section as the drag race sector. The rest of the track is pretty much a kart circuit with short straights and tight corners from turn 5 to the final corner, turn 8. The car was very loose and tail-happy everywhere and I struggled to get the power down through the fast sweepers in the drag race sector, as well as coming out of tight corners in the kart sector, but I did manage to slide the thing to a semi-respectable high 1’05”-something during qualifying, not bad for a first-timer considering I missed most of practice.

The rear end felt looser than a Bangkok prostitute… Okay, I don’t really know what a Bangkok prossy feels like, but you watch the video clip below you’ll see what I mean. I’m the clown in the yellow car. Not the best lines through corners and all, just playing with the power of the car, but you can see a mile away that I enjoyed driving the thing…

Power-sliding fun (date stamp on this vid is wrong)

I was less than happy with grip from the tyres, but beggars can’t be choosers so I just did the best I could for the rest of the weekend. We did make some setup changes in an effort to settle the rear end down, dialled in more wing angle for the fast sweepers, softened the rear stabiliser bar and reduced ride height in the rear for better traction on the exit of tight corners, but trying to dial out shagged tyres is like spelling the word racecar backwards. You still end up with racecar.

This is a highly competitive class where all the cars are virtually identical and If you’re just a little off on setup or grip in a Shelby Can-Am race you’re nowhere really, so I did what I do when a good finish is out of the question – Enjoy the drive, which is exactly what this opportunity was intended to be anyway, and Phuket man, did I have a blast…! 

Finished 8th overall and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the Shelby Can-Am experience, so thanks Jannet, for getting my entry in and whatnot, Rudi for making his car available, Rocket Rod for nominating me for this drive, Rui Campos for affording me this opportunity, Alan Eve for the spare engine, all the drivers for your tips and advice, I have immense respect for the way you guys pedal, and last but not least, Gerald and his crew from GT1 workshop for keeping the car on the track. 

Geesh, that sounded like a speech at the Oscars, he-he-he...


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