Yelwoc Motorsport

Jon Owen's Racing

Jon Owen's Racing

Jon is my ex-brother-in-law but that is another story!

When we met in 1981 I was heavily into cars and engineering and he was heavily into cars and watching rallying.
We would get up as silly times in the morning to freeze to death watching a few seconds of Pentti Airikkala, Stig Blomqvist, Tony Pond, Roger Clark, Russel Brookes and many others. He went to school with Russel Bulgin then a journalist with CCC and had friends associated with GMSPO Dealer Team the Andrews Heat For Hire Opel of Russel Brookes and we used to chase the cars around with them. These were the days of Group B cars; Lancia Deltas, Stratos, Peugeot 205s, Opel Mantas, Audi Quattros, Ford RS-200 and Metro 6R4s. Fire belching and staccato crackling beasts of the forest. We loved it!

Over many a pint and many a weekend we discussed doing something ourselves. The discussions came to the conclusion that we did not have the contacts in the garage trade to have a team of mechanics in one or more Transits to support (hammer out!) a car and to rebuild it afterwards. Jon at that time had the finances to start a small effort and I had some skills to provide the engineering.

We decided that track car racing might be cheaper and easier for us and we started looking for a series to join and a car to campaign.
Because we were beginners we chose to jump into the Budget Rent-a-Car Mod Prods and not to buy a running racecar to build our own and to choose a Japanese hot hatch. This was influenced by the fact that my sister was trying to dispose of a Toyota Corolla AE86 RWD GT road car. Research showed that it has won the BTCC in the hands of Chris Hodgetts and co. So must be good!

It should be noted in hindsight that these decisions are and were catastrophic for ones bank balance. "Go racing in a road hoig hot hatch with 750 Motor Club my son!!". But we didn't know any better.

In 1988 We bought the car and with a 2 month forced leave at the start of 1989 ( I'd worked for a bank and hadn't taken any extended holiday in 3 years), we set to work on the car in my parents double garage in Kent. Myself, every day from 0800 to 2200 and Jon whenever he could get down from the Midlands.

The Corolla has the 4-cylinder 16v 1600cc 4A-GE engine that also went into the first MR2. It was designed by Yamaha and was one of the first really high revving Japanese 4 cylinders, easily coping with 8,000 rpm and producing about 125bhp. It has a two stage inlet system, where the inlet tract to the half the valves was only opened after about 3,800 rpm. This gave excellent low end torque and great high-end power. It has an early japanese ECU controlling; for then, a sophisticated fuel injection and ignition system. Otherwise the car is a tradition 3-door hatchback with Macpherson strut and roll-bar front with a 5-link live-axle at the back. Servo assisted disc brakes stop it.

As mentioned above, we should have gone for a Ford Escort MkII, or a Sunbeam Ti, on carburetors, but we didn't.

We obtained the RACMSA bluebook, Toyota Motorsport (TRD) Catalogue and a copy of Demon Tweeks and we were off. We stripped the car and installed a Janspeed exhaust ( a fast road one of course..OK I know now!), a Safety Devices bolt in cage, new brake parts, a Corbeau racing seat, racing harness, fire extinguisher; cut-off switch and pulls. The suspension was upgraded with new TOMS bushes and Koni D Sport dampers and springs. New NGK spark plugs and a K&N air-filter and replaced the standard oil-cooler with a Mocal unit.

A set of K&N 14" wheels were shod with Yokohama A008R rubber as we had seen these on tarmac rallies.

I broke the fuel feed from the tank while trying to replace the filter and had to beg the local Toyota dealership in Maidstone to stay open on a Saturday afternoon to receive the replacement part for me to collect. I grew to hate Toyota dealerships, with this racer and future road cars. Early 1989 I'd bought £4,000 of spare parts and they didn't even offer to help me get them into the car.

I finished the car at 0130 on Wednesday 1 March 1989. Jon had booked our first test session at Mallory Park, in Leicestershire, for that morning. I went to bed and got up at 5am only to realise I had no fuel except 2 gallons of 2 stroke fuel for the lawn mower! I drove, carefully, the 10 miles to the closest fuel station and had to wait until 6.30am before they opened. I got the car to Mallory Park (160 miles) by 8.10 am just before the gates shut at 8.15 am!

So begins the story! - ( Jon's kids came alone during this period so hence the car names!)

Top | Toyota AE86 | Honda CRX | Sunbeam Ti | Rover SD1 | BMW E36 M3

The Toyota Corolla GT AE86 [Tommy] Years 1988-1991

A few weeks later we were at a foggy damp Silverstone for a SUNBAC meeting with the Budget Rent-a-Car Modified Production Saloons.
In those days we didn't keep much in the way of records and all those old time sheets will have been lost in various garages or house moves.

1989 Silverstone Toyota AE86 1989 Silverstone Toyota AE86 1989 Silverstone Toyota AE86 1989 Silverstone Terry Stone Toyota AE86

The last picture is of a similar car build and driven by Terry Stone a really great guy who died in an accident cutting pipes down in his garage. He was the first person to tell us to run the car as soft as you felt comfortable with.

We soon learnt that the car was too quiet, full of unnecessary weight, not powerful enough and not using its tyres. As serious Toyota (BTCC) engineers looked at the engine and the complex inlet track valves were removed and the exhaust system soon developed from the fast road system. Power went up to about 140 bhp.

As Jon raced with people with all sorts of machinery we started to see how things should be done and started to talk to people who could make significant improvements to the car. We met up with Dave Lampitt of Specfab in Pershore, just down the road from Jon. He had worked at BRM and with Walkinshaw. Specfab had also been a major part of the Toyota GB winning the BTCC in 1986 and 1987 with the AE86 Corolla. At the time everything he did seemed to cost a fortune, but it always worked.
Lampitt introduced us to engine builders, who eventually took the power up from 125bhp standard through 160, 185 and ultimately 190bhp. The inlet and exhaust cams are almost symmetrical and the same lift. The standard units are 8.8m lift 240-deg and the tarmac rally spec were about 10mm 288deg, then the proper race engines with under bucket shims and race cams with 11.1mm lift 304-deg and finally we had a ex Chris Hodgetts 220 bhp Silverstone 6-hr engine with 13.1mm lift 320-deg, Mahle pistons, Carillo-S rods, billet crank. We decided that this would cost too much to maintain so we dropped it back to the 304 cams and it ran perfectly at 190bhp. The engine mapping was undertaken by Richard Lloyd and Brian Ricketts, at what became GTI Engineering, using the Toyota ECU.

I have recently found an excellent site on modifying this engine by an Australian Bill Sherwood.

The Lampitt connection introduced us to some serious BTCC competitors; such as Phil Dowsett, Chris Hodgetts, Les Liddiard and Tony Crudgington who were happy for these amateurs to take their old tyres and various bits away, in particular old Ford Sierra Cosworth 15" BF Goodrich TA1R tyres, which of course required a set of 15" split rim Compomotive wheels.

We had started off with Yokohama A008R tyres, the BFGoodrich TA1Rs which were fairly soft but behaved differently to the A008Rs but we were getting them cheap. It eventually ended up on Falken FK-451Gs as Falken became the title sponsors.

The Lampitt connection also brought a certain Ray Selley who used to arrive at the race meeting about 5 minutes before practice, stay 20 minutes and disappear into the ether again. Ray had worked for TOMS GB and Les Liddiard had run Phil Dowsetts Corolla GTI in BTCC. Les rebuilt the engines for us.

We changed the front struts and dampers to Leda.

1995 Thruston Toyota AE86 1995 Thruston Toyota AE86 1995 Thruston Toyota AE86

Here is Jon racing at Pembrey in April 1990.

Once the engine power started creeping up we had to start looking at the brakes and we ended up using Bob Green at BG Developments in Bromsgrove.
Again expensive for us, but worked, he built AP calipers and discs to fit under our 14" wheels, that we used for wets. The brakes became one of our biggest disasters and money pits and in hindsite caused by a simple mistake. We had rebuilt and serviced all the brakes on many occasions. However, after one rebuild we had a problem that the brakes, despite extensive bleeding, would always have along pedal and feel spongey unless pumped. We put dual Girling remote servos on with only marginal improvement.

With 20 years hindsite, the servicing of the front calipers probably had the piston seals rolled so they pulled the piston back from the pads when the pressure was released. A simple mistake that not only cost £000s but covered our hands in AP550/AP600 racing brake fluid, which we may yet pay further for!

The car ended up with a TRD diff and a TRD/Quaife 5-speed dox box even though Quaife made the gears they had to bought through TRD at that time.

By this time the Budget Rent-a-Car series had become the Falken RSCC series and we were running on Falken tyres which turned out to very good.
We originally ran the car in its production colour of metallic silver/blue, then had it sprayed. After some time we discovered that a £15 tin of coach paint and an emulsion brush was good enough for us (see the white picture).

We also had the opportunity to buy some of the ex-BTCC components and discovered the world of professional racing! Front wings that were paper thin (independently we discovered that Japanese market panels were lighter than European market panels..but not that light); Macpherson struts with the damper insert in that weighed less than ours without it. Toyota would have shells prepared from the production line with no paint, no mastic, no insulation and ship them to TOMS in UK.

Mod Prods were starting to get a bit crazy for our budget with some parties spending huge 6-figure numbers every season.

Jon ran the car as a roadcar for a while, with him and his wife scaring the locals down the local roads. The gearbox was sold to some lads from Leeds, who thought that a racing gearbox would make their car go faster and complained it had not syncro's in!

Top | Toyota AE86 | Honda CRX | Sunbeam Ti | Rover SD1 | BMW E36 M3

The Honda CRX [Harry] Years 1991-93

CRX at Thruxton Chicane

It was thought, with some logic and over a few beers that running in a single make championship would be more cost effective than a largely unregulated modifie dproduction series.
We didn't want to be in a current manufacturer supported series as professional drivers who didn't need to worry about panels and budgets would be involved.

The Mobile 1 Honda CRX Challenge was well established but coming to end of its life and losing the direct manufacturer and oil company support (money), so most of the professional drivers were leaving to joining the Renault Clio Championship. The cars were coming on the market for reasonable money and Jon bought one of these cars from Nigel Smith (think?!).
There were still several serious teams and drivers series who hung on for a few seasons to make it still fairly competitive.

The machine is front wheel drive with transverse DOHC non-VTEC 1600cc fuel injected inline 4-cylinder and a 5 speed gearbox. The suspension followed the then advanced; but standard to Honda, double front wishbones, that were adjustable for camber and caster using cams. The series was very tightly regulated with only certain parts being allowed such as the Bilstein dampers and including the exhaust and all source through the series. The only major modification to a standard car was the oversized brakes at the front using Citroen discs and Ford callipers. Wheel spacers were mandatory. The engines were monitored at every race using a Schrick meter. Engines had to be between 139 and 149bhp.
The cars ran on spec 14" wheels with Yokohama slicks.

It soon became apparent that the top teams were practising every Wednesday before a race day and scrubbing in new slicks in preparation. There were also always replacing bushes, dampers, ignition parts, etc to ensure the car ran to its best.

The car has a tendency to chew up its 2nd and 3rd gears/synchros but it was found that the Integra (1800cc) components that were stronger would fit in the same casing. Against the rules, but we understood many had done so, but we couldn't afford it! Also the Shrick meter measures the engine mass acceleration and works out the power based upon the mass being known to reasonable accuracy. Heavier flywheels or clutch components would increase the mass and slow the acceleration in an engine that was 'over powered'. All theory of course.

Nigel Smith who have been reasonably successful in the series in 1990 and 1991 also gave us some advice.

As it became more expensive to run well in the Mobile 1 Challenge, Jon moved back to the Falken Modified Production Saloons but without doing anything to the car, running it in Challenge spec.

Top | Toyota AE86 | Honda CRX | Sunbeam Ti | Rover SD1 | BMW E36 M3

The Sunbeam Ti [Sammy] Years - 1994-97

Sunbeam at Thruxton Chicane Sunbeam  at Cadwell Pk Sunbeam at Oulton Pk Sunbeam at Oulton Pk

Sunbeam History

The dream of cheap racing in the CRX challenge faded and Jon decided to go for what he thought would be a much cheaper racecar.
With its massive following in the rally world, parts were readily available and relatively cheap, especially in the Midlands and close to the Welsh Rally lands.

Jon bought a race car that had run in something like the Toyo series. One of the first things that he did with it was to have Phil Cutts at Torquespeed replace the bolt-in safety cage with a bespoke welded in cage. This makes an enormous difference to any racecar.
Phil would also built the engines and as he had a very good relationship with Peugeot, owners of the Chrysler Europe brand, was able to get engines and components at very good rates. However we went through a period of breaking the top end, particularly the rockers and shafts. This turned out to the same problem with a number of blocks.

Jon managed to source a very trick racing cylinder head that I think was made by a very well known engineering shop..but I can't remember who!
The engine, when it stayed together, produced about 145 bhp which is very good. The ignition was powered by a Lumenition unit with an optical triggered system

The gearbox was a Quaife close ratio and the LSD was also a Quaife plate/Salisbury unit.
The brakes where based on tarmac Rally spec (APs I think) with disks front and rear.

The suspension dampers were LEDA.

The tyres were 185x60x13 Dunlop D84s that were/are the spec tyres for the Classic Saloon Car Racing series.

The car was so easy to work on because everthing was so light and generally there was so much room.

Jon raced this with the CSCC in the Group 1 series, in class D and was able to pedal this car very well, but I just couldn't get on with it and in one race in the wet at Donnington I managed to spin on at least 8 of 10 laps at Redgate corner! Jon and his son were watching from there too!

My first race with the car was back with the Budget Rent-a-Car Mod Prods at Thruxton on Sunday 9th October 1994, where I ran slowly 2' 40s at the back. Jon had raced in CSCC at Snetterton on the Saturday with a new engine that had given way. We raced back to Worcester installed an old engine. In the morning we tried to put it on the trailer only to find the clutch was stuck to the flywheel. We eventually got to Thruxton, signed-on, scrutineered and into 12:00 practise with a few minutes to spare. The engine blew up on lap 5.

We broke the halfshafts and diff a few times.

We managed to break a few half-shaft in practice at Mallory on Sunday 27 April 97. We rushed back to Worcester to collect a replacement and managed to get it all fixed for the afternoon race.

Top | Toyota AE86 | Honda CRX | Sunbeam Ti | Rover SD1 | BMW E36 M3

The Rover SD1 Years 1997-2000

SD1 Mallory Park Chicane SD1 Mallory Park SD1 Pembrey

After awhile Jon looked to something that might be still cheap to run but have a bit more grunt and with a chance of running towards the front of the grid.
Ford Capri 3.0s and Rover SD1s came to mind. At that time I had a reasonable amount of knowledge of the SD1 having owned and extensively modified 2 road cars, both of which spent considerable time in bits in Jon's drive. His wife even had one taken away by a farmer! The B......
We had found a series The Classic Saloon Car Club (now Class Touring Car Racing Club) with the Sunbeam and decided to build the SD1 to their Group 1 specifications. The car ran first at Pembrey in June 1997.

Jon's Rover was based on a single plenum Lucas fuel injected Vitesse 3.5L V8 engine, which produced about 300bhp at the flywheel. The engine was prepared by Ray Webb at what was Rovertec until Rover Group started threatening any company dealing with cars with Rover in the name. Rovertec became V8 Developments. Ray used to operate out of Fleckney near Leicester, but has moved off to the Lincolnshire Fens.

The car had the mandatory Jaguar front disk conversion and also ran rear disks with Renault 25 front callipers and rear disks from a Ford Cosworth Granada.

The gearbox was a Rover LT77 unit from Leyland DAF 300 Sherpa or the AA recovery vehicles, that is the same as the standard 5-speed Rover SD1 unit except it only has 4 larger and stronger gears. I also supported another racing SD1 that had installed at some expense a full racing Getrag box based on that from the BMW 633. Just not worth it in my mind. Very slow and confusing reverse selection pattern (as Merc 190 Cosworth see Top Gear and James May).

The front suspension on these cars is very simple for such a large car and as a result needs attention. It initially had Leda front suspension with Spax rear dampers, but Ray provided some trick front strut based on that used a TWR Group A car. Leda coil-overs were used at the rear. The diff nose and all the rear suspension bushes were Nylon/Polyurethane, as where the front roll bar mounts. The track control arms were fitted with uniball bearings.
The safety cage was a custom build from Phil Cutts at Torquespeedagain, now in Worcester.
It is often forgotten that if you're adding 75kg of steel in your racecar it might as well work for its living. A good cage will transform the handling of the car and this car handled beautifully.

The car ran on 225x60x15" Dunlop D84Js, the series spec tyre.

At the much later Tom Walkinsaw Museum auction I was able to closely look at TWR/Bastos Group A Rover SD1 and note fundamental chassis differences. Apart from massive brakes and wheels (with centre lock) the main difference was the rear suspension controls which included a ladder structure inside the car across the rear seat area which I think acted as a roll bar. They also seriously strengthend the cross beam that links the leading ends of the trailing links and the diff nose mount.
We also learnt that a significant part of a car's weight is in the glass and a big hatchback like the SD1 has a lot of glass. Polycarbonate products such as Lexan as used in Helmet Visors is much lighter but often prohibited in the regulations. We learnt that it was possible to get Triplex and others to make thinner glass, albeit at some expense, but the difference between 4mm and 3mm glass on the tailgate of an SD1 is a significant weight loss.

Jon's car was relatively standard but its handling and braking stability made it a fantastic car to drive.

One of the only problems we had with the car was with a fuel pickup problem that was eventually fixed using external pumps and a fuel swirl/collector pot.
The engine was very reliable but did cost in excess of £4,000 for rebuilds every couple of seasons.

Jon started to wonder if building and racing cars for clubman motorsport was potential more expensive than doing so in a higher level of motorsport.

Top | Toyota AE86 | Honda CRX | Sunbeam Ti | Rover SD1 | BMW E36 M3

The BMW E36 M3 Years 2001-2009

Group N BMW E36 M3 John at Silverstone Calum Locke at Nurburgring

The cost of running a racecar is dependent upon many things, but the more reliable the car is, or the less stressed it is, the 'cheaper' it may be to run. The cars we had been running with the exception of the Honda CRX had all be been highly modified. They also were all relatively old model cars and getting parts for them was often more involved than we had thought. So the reasoning was select a car that is relatively modern, with good motor racing pedigree, is elligible for many series, has a strong engine and we'll keep it Group N.
We had also become tired of spending days in the garage, hours on the road for a 10 min sprint that is typical of UK racing.

Once we started thinking longer races and Endurance, we considered a UK series such as Britcar, of Spa and of course Nurburgring.
Phil Cutts at Torquespeed is a big Ring fan and has taken several cars there.

Two BMWs E36s were subsequently built by Phil to Nurburgring Group N5 regulations.
These are 3.0L cars with Proflex dampers, 100L fuel capacity and NurburgRing spec final drive ration but otherwise standard.
The cars ran on Dunlop full race tyres, which are of cross/bias ply construction.

The cars ran in the 24-hr race at Nurburgring in May 2001. For various reasons the cars were not complete when they arrived at the circuit and had never turned a wheel in anger before practise. This was down to bad planning and poor organisation of engineering team. It is one thing to have great engineering skills but if you can't deliver on time and budget......We had huge problems with the brakes caused by the wrong rear wiring loom section, which was eventually resolved with enormous help from the BMW/Bosche engineer who had actually designed the system!
John Cowgill and Calum Lockie driving car #231 finishing 6th in Class with 92 laps completed and with the fastest lap in Class of 10'12.924.
Julian Lay, John Grant and Leonard Lessow drove car #232 finishing 7th in Class with 77 laps completed having been off the circuit for 7 hours after a big crash with Julian Lay.

The pit crew managed to push a car backwards into Melindi Lockie in the pits and severley damage her knee!
We then had one of the tyre handlers collapse in the garage on Sunday lunchtime. Impresive response from the paramedics and the F1 Medical Centre staff. The resulting treatment and Helicopter ride to and from Cologne Hospital cost €11,000!!
Calum's race report; that unfortunately is no longer online, was very politic!

John Grant went on to win the Class in another E36 M3 the following year with GTS Motorsport, whose E36 M3 had finished 2nd in Class in this race.
They also ran the car for Calum Lockie and John Cowgill in 2003 Willhire which they won.

Jon and I went back to Nurburgring in September 2001 and race in a 4hr VLN "RCM-DMV Grenzlandrennen". The plan was to do 4 1hr stints as it was our first time on the Ring. Jon was ill and probably shouldn't have started at all, let alone his 2nd stint, which he aborted after 2 laps, so I ended up doing a long last leg. We managed 21 laps and my fastest lap was 10' 49.482" which I think compares well to Calum's in the same car.

Jon and I have also raced the car in several BritCar/EERC races.

Jon has subsequently sold both of the BMW's on.

Top