Engine out of racing mini in the middle of the night

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From devastation, to heartbreak, to glory. The NSK Classic & Sportscar Meeting had it all in store for me & my mini…
I loaded the Mini on the trailer on Thrursday evening, and we stuck the Imp in the Commer, and off we went. After 4 hours of driving we sat up camp at the track, where it was very cold and not summer-like at all.

Friday morning came sunny & clear, and the aim for the first part of the day was to get the Imp & Doc around the track. This wasn’t a problem at all; the Imp is now officially tamed. It’s almost civilized enough to go shopping in! Doc went faster by the lap, and when he started mixing it with the Minis, things really started to happen. At the end of the day, he had improved by a massive 8 seconds a lap – in dry conditions!

In the afternoon, the Mini ran fine in the first session, but in the second, the weekend really got dark. As I entered the pits to line up, the car was stuck in 1st gear. No way to budge it. We pushed it back to the paddock, and checked the remote linkage, and tried various tricks with hammers and worse without luck. Arrrgh.

So I started talking to various Mini-gurus, and Lasse, the Chief Mech on Bengt Bengtzons Cooper told me this had happened to them once – and it was a case of bringing a hammer to the gears themselves, and getting it out of 1st.

After some lip chewing and sighing, I decided that the weekend (and I) was still young, so what the heck. With help from the Bengts, we sourced a nice engine hoist (really a Sports 2000 car hoist) and a lift bracket for the A-series motor. I’d brought my flywheel puller, a set of gaskets…there were people around, so…

I attacked the familiar job of pulling the engine out. After a couple of hours, it was on the ground in front of the car. With help from the insanely helpful fellow racers, we started splitting the box from the block. The first snag emerged: two of the bolts holding the back plate to the clutch snapped – leaving half bolts deep in the holes on the back plate. Sh**.

“…Apparently they had used nothing more than a warm BBQ, hand tools, and obviously, some rather superb skills…”

Nevertheless, we carried on, and found a box almost free of synchro rings, and a stuck 1st gear. So with some banging and cursing, we got it out of gear. Wahey. And it seemed to work apart from that. By chance, fellow SHAG racer Jon Even passed by, got the rap on the backplate, and promptly brought in two of the hands-on gurus of the Corsa Italiana series, Øyvind and Inge. They said this could be done. I did not believe them, as it was dark by now, and we only had hand tools available. And no new bolts.

These guys race a Lancia Thema Estate. Which is insanely fast, and insanely trick, though it looks like every other car you meet on the streets, just a tad lower…I should have known.

Wet racing

Up to 3rd overall from last - gotta love a Mini in the rain!

I was about to dig in at our coxy BBQ when they returned with a fixed backplate, including new threads and bolts. Apparently they had used nothing more than a warm BBQ, hand tools, and obviously, some rather superb skills. Incredible!

With renewed energy, we got the engine and box loaded in the truck, and with plenty of assistance, Vegar J. and I got the box back on the motor. Doc was having problems staying awake, as he was one of the few who hadn’t downed a fourpack of Red Bull…at about 2AM, we had a couple of beers, and called it a night. The engine was now sitting on the floor, ready to go back in.

I woke up wool-mouthed with the birds, and with Doc and a couple of more gents helping, we somehow got the bulky A-series out of the truck and in front of the Mini. I got it back in the car, and the race to get the car running before qualifying was on. Helpful people seemed to crawl out of the woodwork everywhere, and I think we rarely were less than 5 people working on the car at the same time. I had it started and tested 5 minutes after qualifying was over…

And then the heavens opened. We had decided to stay out of 1st gear for now, which was no problem. So I lined up dead last in the absolutely cats & dogs weather. I had planned to take it easy and try the car for a few laps. That plan went out the window as soon as the lights went out. I instantly passed two cars, and drove like posessed. I love driving in rain – so does the Mini, so within a few laps we passed cars everywhere, and were right on Edwin’s bumper in 4th overall. I might have been mad, I don’t know, but suddenly there I was, after finding erm…a few new places to pass.

Race 1:

Then the safety car came out as somebody had spun and got stuck in a dangerous position. So we toddled around for a couple of laps, and were off again. Ed and I were now with the leaders, and I got by Ed who had been held up passing other cars, and started chasing Holm Matheson. But things were now a bit more difficult…Holm was driving excellently, so was Ed who was giving me a very hard time , and the rain had gotten hillarious. If were were driving F1s, they would have wussed out at the start! Sepang was for sissies compared to this!

I almost drowned the onboard camera!! Just as I was starting to get a plan shaped, I spotted that dreaded black and orange flag. Was that me? Next lap by confirmed it: indeed. #42. Youre flacked. I checked temps and pressures. All ok, but there was some smoke in the cockpit, and a distinct smell of burning oil. Disgusted, I pulled into the pits – with two laps to go, and found my car pi**ing oil from the gearbox somewhere. Gutted.

So – what had happened? A quick inspection proved that the bolt, spring and plunger keeping the shifting forks for 1st/2nd in place had popped out. A legacy of burning the midnight oil (ha ha).

After trying to nab those parts from Bengt Bengtzons stricken car, we gave up, and stuck a bolt in – plugging the hole, and leaving me with 3rd and 4th for Sundays race. The rest of the evening was spent munching the excellent BBQ food at the party, and drinking a few beers with the Corsa Italiana guys under the grandstands. Brilliant company, but oh so mad people! :)

Thankfully, the weather was good. And I was 2nd on the grid – based on laptimes from race 1. Ahead of a bunch of Lotii, mind. Rolf Myggan Nilsson on pole in his 26R kept the pace on the cam of my 3rd gear so my start wasn’t that bad. I was worried about one bend where I use 2nd on hotlaps, or under pressure, but managed to stay in 2nd through this before two Loti accellerated past. I then kept my foot to the floor, and to my joy there seemed to be a grand duel between 3-4 cars going on behind me. So I got the gap I needed, and kept a safe pace for the rest of the race. In solitude. But I brought it home – 1st in clasS, 5th overall. And that Is what I call payback.

Race 2:

The Mini is definitely a good racecar now. It can take a real beating. It handles really well, and goes well too. But what it really needs is an overhauled gearbox! I’ll try and fix the 2nd gear and go to Rudskogen for the final races in three weeks…

I’m simply overwhelmed by all the help I got. I owe all of you so much. There must have been at least 20 people helping me some way or another. So – in random order – and I hope I’m not forgetting anybody – thanks are due to:

Dad, Vegard Mære and Petter Jacob, Øyvind and Inge, Vegar J , Edwin,  Atle Ramberg & his Mechanics, The two Bengts & mechanics, Jon Even and the Corsa Italiana madmen,  Ketil and Vidar. You are ACE SPORTSMEN!

Doc raced without incident, managing to beat arch-rival Ketil in his Abarth in race two, Vegar had a blast in his Abarth in the Corsa, and Vegard mære and PJ debuted their 1275GT with success – and surprising speed. Watch out!