Spa Francorchamps October 2019

After a couple of trouble free days during the Destination Nurburgring 22 trackday I woke this morning looking forward to Spa with no concerns.

We had an early breakfast at the guesthouse and whilst chatting, Hilde brought out some old, original pamphlets from previous Nürburgring events. We must have spent a good 15 minutes reading through them and could have spent longer if we didn’t have to get on the road. Seeing photos of the Ring from all those years ago, along with various articles and adverts from the time was a great start to the morning.

 

I can’t recall the actual years these are from, but I’ve seen the cover on several photos over the years. I suspect there aren’t many original copies laying around anymore. Breakfast was certainly lively but even though we were all talking about the Ring and it’s history, eyes were firmly on the clock and before long it was time to head off.

 

It’s a good 1 1/2 hour drive from Nurburg to Spa and when towing it adds another 15 minutes to that time. The rain was still falling, it was dark and yet we were all excited about the trackday ahead as we said our farewells to Hilde for another year. 

 

Is it just me ? I suspect not ! I still get that short burst of excitement when I see the track for the first time. It’s the same whichever trackday I’m attending, actually seeing the circuit makes it all seem that little bit more real. If I thought I was bad, Gav was even worse ! He’s been to Spa before to watch the F1 but this was going to be his first time on the track and he was even giddier than I was.

 

Welcome to a damp and dreary Spa.

 

As always, we took the tunnel under the track to gain access to the inner paddock.

 

The day was being run from the new pits but before we had time to start unloading, it was time to sign on and head off for the briefing.

 

The day was being run by Circuit Days but as usual, Chris takes advantage of the local instructors and Roy helped during the briefing by giving some pointers on particular area to watch out for and explained that Spa carry out ‘live’ recoveries, the same as the Nürburgring which is something I’ve seen and experienced before. Whilst seeming strange if you are used to UK events where every breakdown is followed by a red flag during recovery, the European way of trying to get the car back under waved yellows means red flags are seen far less than would otherwise be the case. That means the days flow better, without the stop-start and traffic queues you’d otherwise see after a stoppage.

There were a lot of drivers I’d seen over the previous 2 days at the Ring. Like me they were of the view that a large percentage of the cost of these events is the travelling and accommodation so tagging on another trackday when you are already here made perfect sense. Well, that’s how I explain it to myself anyway 

 

After the usual sighting laps it was time for the circuit to go live and the pitlane opened. I’m not sure if it was the weather but from the minute the track went live, there was no big rush to get on track and there was no queue in the pitlane.

 

It had stopped raining but the track was still soaked and I went out for the first laps on the wets that were still on the car after yesterday. The plan was to get everything up to temp and then take Gav out for his first ever laps of Spa. As it’s such a long lap I only did 4 laps and came back into the pits.

 

Gav jumped in and we went straight back out. I know I’ve said this before but taking someone who is enthusiastic for their first lap on a new circuit is almost as enjoyable for me as it is for them. Just watching back the drivercam and you can see how much he was enjoying the lap. That reaction is infectious and I found myself grinning along with him.

 

The rain had stopped but there was no dry line. It was dry enough to swap to the Direzzas. I wasn’t ready to fit the Slicks just yet but the Direzzas are perfect for these conditions.

 

I did notice that I wasn’t able to use full boost up Kemmel straight, the AFR was starting to go lean if I did.  I’d had this issue at the ring but thought I’d sorted it with a tweak to the fuelling.

Thinking nothing of it I kept lapping and ran between 0.7 and 1 bar instead of using the 1.5bar map. Whilst it meant I couldn’t always keep up with the quicker stuff on the straights, it made no difference anywhere else.

 

Like the Ring, there are loads of Porsches on these trackdays and one of the most enjoyable parts of the day for me is getting in amongst a few of them and having some close laps together. Yup, that’s right, I look forward to chasing Caymans and GT3’s in my MK2 Golf 

 

We noticed a few drops of oil under the front splitter whilst checking tyre pressures. I could see some oil on the splitter so removed the bumper for a closer look.

 

Straight away it was obviously this was a fresh leak from the oil cooler .

 

I run a Setrab Proline cooler. Not only are they extremely efficient but a lot of thought has gone into the design. They have several ports for oil inlets and outlets to ensure maximum flexibility when mounting. By tapping the cooler 22mm, it allows the fitting of adapters to many common sizes, from AN12 to BSP fittings. The cooler is the same, you just buy the necessary adaptor.

 

The adaptor is sealed to the cooler with an O ring.

 

These are the original O rings from when the cooler was fitted back in 2018

 

It didn’t take long to spot the issue.

 

We tried sealing the thread with PTFE tape, but as they are both parallel threads, we simply couldn’t get a 100% seal and I refuse to drive on circuit if I’m losing any fluids. I’ve seen too many friends have accidents due to fluid loss on track.

 

There were several race teams setting up in the lower paddock and so I had a wander round and found a team with a selection of copper washers. They had one the perfect size and even gave me a spare. I offered to pay but the guys just waved me off “We have a box full, don’t worry about it ”

 

Whilst getting the copper to seal needs more torque on the fitting, I’m pretty confident this has fixed it permanently.
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Whilst we were refitting everything it started hailing. We ended up getting soaked to the skin, but had a change of clothes so once we’d finished we all changed into dry clothes.

 

The circuit was fully wet by now but as the skies were clearing I left the Direzzas on and just played around a bit.

 

I find Spa with it’s large run off areas gives me a lot of confidence to practise lift off oversteer in varying degrees. From a small lift to rotate the car on entry to a full lift to get the back sliding.

 

The rain stopped and the sun came out. A few laps later the standing water had gone and I was back up to speed.

 

Ian jumped in for a session and we followed this Porsche out of the pits. What a great few laps it was too. We were very close over the full lap, he had so much more traction out of the chicane onto the start finish that he just cruised past but everywhere else it was much closer. I followed for a couple of laps then he moved over and let me past. This was definitely the most enjoyable session of the day for me. Whilst it was still wet off line, there was enough of a drying line to be able to carry good speed through some corners. As always, the Golf was simply awesome through Pouhon and Blanchimont. They are fast corners and the Aero really makes a big difference.

You can hear Ian commenting how lean the fuelling is going on the couple of occasions when I tried running high boost.

 

I’d had this issue at the Ring before I tweaked the fuelling. One of the great things of the DTA ECU is that it logs fuel pressure. By looking back at the logs I can see that the fuel pressure was constant at the Ring as the revs rose. Which is how it should be.

 

Looking at the log after this session with Ian and it was clear the fuel pressure was falling away when I pressed the high boost button. (Yellow line). This caused the AFR to start going lean (White line)

 

The first thing to check was the intank fuel pump and filter. Removing the pump is relatively easy, but sadly the filter was spotless. I was hoping to find it covered in debris !

 

The next thing to look at was the external fuel pump This was mounted under the car in the same location as the original fuel pump. Since this issue I’ve moved it to a more accessible location.

I removed the pump, fitted the spare and cleaned up the earth connection to the chassis as it was showing a bit of corrosion.

 

I`d been explained what I was doing to Matt, and he had a look to see what I had been talking about.

 

Gav, for reasons known only to himself, saw this as a perfect opportunity to start messing around. As you’ll see later, this was the only a taste of things to come 

 

After refitting everything we went out for another session but the issue was the same. Hmmm, nothing more I can really do so I just left it on low boost and carried on lapping.

 

As the afternoon progressed the fault very quickly became worse. Instead of dropping pressure on high boost, it was now doing it on actuator pressure only. This was no longer a decrease in pressure at high revs, this was a severe drop over 4,500rpm and even with short shifting, I knew it wasn’t safe to continue lapping so called it a day.

When I arrived back in the UK I fitted a new intank pump and the problem was fixed. Turned out the original intank fuel pump which was probably 30 years old had finally had enough. It had started failing the day before at the Ring which is why I needed to tweak the fuelling on the ECU. Then once it rapidly deteriorated during the afternoon at Spa until it had pretty much failed completely.

As they are so cheap, I now have a spare intank lift pump in my box of spares along with the main high pressure pump which I already carried.

 

There was only 45 minutes to go so whilst I wasn’t thrilled with the driving being cut short, I’d still been able to complete most of the day and almost hit my usual 200 track mile target. It’s not a target as such, but hitting 200+ miles is usually a sign of a day with few issues. The fact we had to stop to fix the oil leak and then try and diagnose the fuel pressure problem whilst still driving 180 miles on track helps remind me not to focus on the problem but the actual lapping instead.

 

Gurds had been able to lap with no problems at all. We only had a few laps together and they were in the wet. Funny how that works sometimes. You make loads of plans to lap together but just end up out of sync with each other and only realise it at the end of the day.

 

After packing up and dropping the car off at the guesthouse we walked up to the Pizzeria for a meal. Andy joined us and we ended up being the last group of people in the restaurant. They actually had to ask us to leave 

 

The next morning we planned on meeting up, having a chat and a coffee before lunch then heading across to the Ferry. Gurds phoned and said his car wouldn’t start and the battery was flat.

After only a few minutes with the voltmeter it was obvious the alternator wasn’t charging the battery.

 

Whilst Gurds was removing it, we were ringing all the local garages and scrapyards trying to find a replacement. Nobody had one!

 

Then we realised we had a spare Golf alternator… Hmmm I wonder. 

 

Removing the rectifier/brush pack from the BMW one, it was clear one of the brushes was completely worn away.

 

Whilst the Golf one wasn’t identical, they were both Valeo and the brushes looked the same size.

 

We desoldered the brushes from both sets. We’d never had to do this before and not only are they soldered, but they are crimped too which makes disassembly tricky.

 

However after 30 minutes or so we’d swapped the brushes to the BMW rectifier pack, fitted it to the alternator and then started to refit that into the engine bay.

 

Then. Well to be perfectly honest, I don`t really know what happened. Seems like Gav’s messing around the day before was infectious… 

 

Ram looking mystified at what Gurds is doing whilst Matt and I refit the alternator.

 

Gav, Sahib and Keerat were happy to stand and observe.

 

Gav isn’t particularly choosy..

 

It seems I’m not either 

 

Matt spotted him out of the corner of his eye, a swift kick to the nuts was in order.

 

I don’t really think anything I type can explain what was going on…

 

After the alternator was fitted, the car was started with jump leads and the alternator was putting out a stable 14.1V. Success ! 

 

We drove into Francorchamps for some lunch. To say we were in high spirits would probably be an understatement.

 

So after all that messing about, the trip was over and it was time to head off home and do you know what. It had been bloody fantastic.

Sure I had a leaking O ring and a failed intank fuel pump but after 3 consecutive days of thrashing the cars nothing had fundamentally failed. If we’d been here tomorrow a new intank pump would have fixed my Golf and Gurds had no problems.  I was apprehensive before we drove out on this trip and I guess that was partly why were messing around so much this morning, the relief that I’d driven 700 miles over 3 days and had some stonking laps in the process was a huge relief and we all knew how bad it could have been after the Ringmeisters issue I had.

 

Once we’d driven to the Ferry we had a couple of beers in the bar. This photo sums up the trip to me, big smiles from Matt and Gav after a truly memorable few days.

 

Whilst driving, Matt’d downloaded the Russian F1 and we took the Pizzas and beer back to to the room to watch the race. Which was a relaxing end to the day.

 

Gav had never been to Spa before and as we were discussing the trip driving back to the ferry he was full of praise for it. The high speed nature of the circuit really suits the Golf and the damp had allowed me to play around a fair bit. He’s comfortable enough sitting next to me that he just sits there with a big smile on his face knowing that I’m in control.

All 3 of us agreed to return to Spa in 2020, Matt enjoyed it so much that he agreed to drive across in his E36, I’d tow the Golf and we’d book on a 2 day event to make sure we had plenty of tracktime on what is my second favourite track. Sometimes I think it’s my favourite, then I drive the Ring and realise it’s a very close No2.

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