Drag Racing with 1791BHP
Drag Racing. It’s boring. It’s easy. Anybody can drive in a straight line. You might as well just put the cars on a rolling road instead. All pearls of wisdom from those who have never been to the drag strip. Well, contrary to popular opinion, drag racing is not easy, it is not boring, and power is not everything – technique, traction and gearing all come into play.
Standing start quarter miles give one of the best insights into a car’s straight-line performance you can get. Forget 0-60s which are pretty meaningless. They give you just one piece of data – time to speed, and a very low speed at that. They are heavily influenced by the number of gear changes required as many cars need a shift just before 60. And, most importantly of all, they give no indication as to which car is actually ahead on the road. As we all know, in competition, it doesn’t matter how fast you go en-route, it’s how quickly you get to the destination that counts. Contrast this to a SS ¼ mile. You get 3 pieces of data here, time to distance, time to speed and speed at distance. As an example let’s look at 2 cars. Caterham R500 and Ferrari F40. Both these cars run a ¼ mile in 11.9 seconds. Which is the faster? The F40 of course! The Caterham does 11.9 at 117mph and the F40 does 11.9 at 126mph. From this we can see that the Caterham will be slightly quicker at low speed but the F40 then catches it and is about to blow past and never look back. On a fast circuit the R500 is going to have to make up a lot of ground in the corners!
I am a member of the SEiGHT Mailing List. This is an internet mailing list for people who own Westfield SEiGHTs. We arrange all sorts of outings such as track days (including the Nurburgring), run-outs, lunches and RWYB drag racing. The drag racing has turned into a great little competition with all the times tabulated at seight.com. I hadn’t been drag racing for 3 years because it normally clashed with my sprinting. However August 17th was mooted, and as I was free and not doing much sprinting anyway this year, I was determined to go. The 1791BHP above refers to the total horsepower of the 5 V8 Westfields that ran on the day, plus my brother Keith’s Ginetta.
1791BHP prepare to do battle!
Normally when I go to a RWYB I use the car exactly as I sprint it, not even changing tyre pressures. I want to see how to get the best out of it in the condition it is normally used. However this was different. Lots of people on the list own 300+HP cars and times were getting so close that there were a bunch of people all in the 12 second area, many of them only a few tenths off my best time of 12.5 seconds at 113mph. This time the aim would be for the best time the car could do. This was war! The last time I went the car was weighing in about 20kg heavier, it now has cycle wings instead of swept wings (more aerodynamic) and the engine has covered another 7,500 miles. This last thing would have an unknown effect. Did the engine need a refresh or was it getting stronger? Datalogs from sprints suggested no change in engine power, but only the clocks would tell. I’ve always used list 1A tyres before whereas most of the other list members use list 1B tyres. This was probably where the biggest improvement could be found – past experience showed that I would often get left behind a car length or two away from the start, then power past further up the strip once wheelspin was no longer a problem. There was no way I was spending £300 on a pair of A032Rs just for this day so I compromised and acquired a pair of Colway F2 remoulds. These were fitted to some spare rims 3 days before the RWYB. Normally the car runs a lot of toe-out for sprints which obviously causes drag. I reset this to parallel toe, changed the plugs and removed the passenger seat and belt. This last thing still didn’t offset the extra weight of the Colways on TSW EVOs which weighed in a massive 12kg heavier than my normal rear wheels and tyres. I normally perform a short wheelspin on list 1As just to clean the treads, but this time I would want to do a proper stationary burnout to heat up the soft Colways. I adjusted the brake bias to remove as much braking as possible from the rears, then practiced dumping the clutch and immediately placing my left foot on the brake with the right amount of effort to hold the car still while allowing the back wheels to spin at about 40mph. Starting with 19psi in the tyres I proceeded to paint some 20 yard long black lines down the road. Looking at these showed dark black edges with grey centres to the lines. The pressure was obviously a little too low and the tyre was cupping slightly. In the end 21psi was settled on. The car was now ready, but ready for what?
What is RWYB?
Run What Ya Brung drag racing is an open test day where anybody can bring along their car, road legal or not, and make passes up the drag strip. At Santa Pod it costs £10 to enter the venue and £15 for unlimited passes up the strip. Signing on starts at 9am and the track is open from 10am to 5pm with a short lunch break around 1pm.
A drag race is from a standing start over a ¼ mile or 1320 feet. There are 2 lanes and the first person over the finish line is the winner. This doesn’t necessarily mean the fastest car, as a traffic light type starting system called the Christmas tree is used to start the race. If a person in a slower car reacts to the start signal faster he can win albeit with a slower time.
This is one public place where smoking is encouraged!
Each lane starts with a water box. This is an area of the track that is kept constantly wet. This is for dragsters to reverse into and spin their back wheels until the whole car disappears in a cloud of smoke. If you have a road car on road tyres drive around the water box, don’t drive through it or do a burnout in it. Road tyres will pick up loads of water in the sipes on the tread. This then causes lots of wheelspin for you when you start, and worse, leaves water on the startline for following cars. You will not be a popular chappie!
About 25 yards further on is the startline and Tree. The tree has 2 orange lights at the top, 3 amber lights beneath these and a green and red light at the bottom. At the startline there are 2 light beams positioned a few inches above ground level. The first is called the pre-stage. When your front tyres block this beam the top orange light on the tree comes on and it is a signal that you are close to the start line. About 12” further is the stage beam. When your tyres have blocked this beam the second orange light comes on and you are ready to start. Once both cars have staged the startline marshal presses a button on his handset and there is a random delay before the tree counts down. Santa Pod uses a Pro Tree for RWYB racing. This means that after the random delay all 3 amber lights come on simultaneously. 0.4 seconds later the ambers go out and the green light comes on. If you leave the startline before the green light comes on you will get a red light and you automatically lose the race. A point worth noting is that the reaction timer starts as soon as the amber lights come on. It is stopped when your front tyres clear the stage beam. Therefore a perfect reaction time is 0.4 seconds and anything less is a red light. If you want to beat your opponent to the finish you must go as soon as the ambers come on. Human reaction times are around 0.2 seconds and then you have to release the clutch and the car has to move forward far enough for the front tyres to clear the stage beam. All this will never happen in less than 0.4 seconds and most people can’t better 0.7 seconds in a road car. Another thing to note is that the reaction time is completely separate from your ¼ mile time. If you are interested purely in a good time you can sit there for a while juggling revs to get things just right. The time for the ¼ on your slip will be the actual time you took, you do not subtract your reaction time from the ¼ mile time! You’d be surprised how many people with 15 second cars claim 14s…
The next part of the track is the 60ft beam. As you pass here it records the time taken from when you clear the start beam to the 60ft point. This is a critical part of the track. Just like in racing where you carry speed through a corner and up a straight, any time saved here will mean more speed that you carry all the way up the strip. Every 0.1 seconds you save here is worth about 0.15 seconds by the time you reach the top end. FWD road cars will be looking for a time of around 2.3 seconds. RWD cars on list 1As will be looking for 2.0s or possibly 1.9s if you are really good. RWD on list 1B should always be under 2.0 seconds as should 4WD cars. This is a very interesting part of the track for sprinters. Just look at the 64ft times from sprints and you’ll see what I mean – a lot of people lose the sprint not on the twisty bits with the ‘proper’ driving, but in those first few car lengths.
Next up is the 330ft beam, followed by the 1/8th mile beam and speed trap. The speed is measured over the 66ft preceding the 1/8th mile marker.
Santa Pod used to have a 3/16th beam too, but this seems to have disappeared so final time will be the ¼ mile time and speed. The speed is measured as before i.e. the 66ft preceding the finish line. The speed is a very useful piece of information as this gives a pretty good indication of power to weight ratio. Even with a poor start, or a slippery track, the finish speed will always be about the same. Forget what your rolling road man tells you, this is what really counts.At the finish line there are huge digital readouts. When you start these display your reaction time for you to see. As you cross the finish this is replaced by your time and speed. A ‘win’ light also comes on in the lane where the car passed the finish first. You won’t be able to see this as it will be behind you, but the crowds can. After a run you can collect your timing ticket from the signing on office. This has all the above data recorded on it for you and for your opponent.
Finally you have the braking area. There are two exits from the braking area to the pit return road. These are both on the left. The first is for road cars, the second is for dragsters that have crossed the line at 200mph+ and need a long distance to brake. The only thing to be aware of here is that if you are in the right hand lane you must check your mirrors before turning left to leave the track. You may have a car in your blind spot who has braked less vigorously than you. The worst case scenario is that you have raced a much faster car that had problems on the line. He may have started several seconds after you and now be closing on you at a great rate of knots. If you turn left into his path he will collect you in style and it will be your fault! This is the reason why real dragsters are never run against road cars at a RWYB.
There are few rules at a RWYB but you need to be aware of the following:
How fast is ‘fast’?
Most GTis and Hot Hatches run 15.5-16.5 second quarters. 14 to 15.5 seconds is where you’ll find things like Subaru Imprezas, Escort Cosworths and the slower Porsches. 13 seconds is where things start getting serious. Most Ferraris and Porsches live here, as do most variants of the Lotus Esprit. 12 seconds is real Supercar territory and here you will find cars like the Bugatti EB110 (12.8), Dodge Viper (12.3) and Ferrari F50 (12.1). 11 second cars are very few and far between. There have only ever been about a dozen cars made that can go this fast out of the factory and they include the Ferrari F40 (11.9), Jaguar XJ220 (11.7) and McLaren F1 LM (11.1). No production car has ever gone under 11 seconds. Of course these are road-test reports and most owner-drivers won’t get near these times due to mechanical sympathy or lack of ability.
Let Battle Commence!
We turned up at 9.15am. After some time spent shooting the breeze with some other Westie drivers we went to sign on. While signing on our friend James Dudfield turned up in his SEiGHT, signed on, and made 2 passes before we even got back to our cars. He banged in a couple of mid-high twelves and things were looking good. There would be 5 V8 Westfields running (me, James, Stuart, Phil and Jon) with power ranging from 281HP to 333HP. Keith and I joined the short queue and Keith commented how it would be nice to have some easy opposition for the first run. I lined up next to a Honda Prelude. Keith had a Honda Civic, or Sucdic as many internet people know them. Not wishing to embarrass myself I just did a short wheelspin to clean the tyres on the way to the line. As I waited for the Honda to stage I held the engine at 2500rpm and wondered how fast he would be. One thing you soon learn at a RWYB is never to underestimate the other cars! The ambers came on and I dropped the clutch. There was quite lot of wheelspin all the way through 2nd gear (in which I start) and most of the way through 3rd. I watched the Honda in my side mirror as it shrunk rapidly even though it was running faster than an Escort Cosworth. I queued up for another run straight away and then went to collect my ticket. Probably about 13 seconds I thought. You can imagine my surprise when the ticket showed my first ever sub 2.0 second 60ft and a ¼ mile time just 0.1 seconds off my PB! Keith had run a low 13 second pass compared to his PB of 13.0/110. This was it. I knew that we would be getting some PBs today.
Stuart and Ian
By lunchtime things were looking interesting. 3 of the V8 Westfields and Keith had all recorded PBs. I had a 12.3/113 in the bag, but James also had a 12.3 PB, only his was 0.004 seconds quicker than mine! Keith’s rear tyres had been at 28psi as a tyre centre had recently refitted them, so he lowered them to 23psi as he felt there was a bit too much wheelspin over the first 60ft. He then managed an incredible 12.7/112 and blew off one of the Westies on A032Rs in a side by side race – and he was using list 1A tyres on the Ginetta!
At lunchtime a few more V8 Westfields turned up to spectate. James Lambert wouldn’t be running as he was halfway through installing a nitrous oxide kit to his car in order to add another 150HP to the existing 250HP. David Northey had a veritable mini bar strapped to his spare wheel – Pimms, gin, red or white wine, lemonade, coke and soft drinks. James’ fiancé came along with enough food to feed an army. This was fun with a capital F. After lunch it was back to business. An interesting point was that even after a few glasses of red wine my reaction times were no different to the morning!
The mini-bar arrives!
Half way through the afternoon Keith went to take some photos of me on the strip. In order to get a good photo I did a really long burnout until the tyres were smoking like a bonfire. Up to the line, 2400rpm, drop the clutch on the ambers and after just a few car lengths I felt the tyres hook. I immediately went to full throttle and the car just took off like a rocket with hardly any wheelspin. Shifting to 3rd, 4th and 5th right at peak revs I glanced at the rev counter as I went through the line. 5400rpm was my highest through the finish so far. I knew this would be good. The start was my best and the finish speed was my best. As I queued up for the next run Keith came over. Bad news - he had missed my smoking burnout with the camera. Good news – I had just done a 12.1! He ran over to get my ticket and it showed a ballistic 1.8 second 60ft time and nearly 114mph over the line. With a time so close to the exclusive 11 second club I was severely tempted to remove the windscreen and see if I could find the last few tenths, however there was only an hour or so left and I would only get about 2 tries so I decided it was too much hassle – maybe next time…
During the afternoon Stuart also managed a PB. The final scores on the doors looked like this:
Apart from Jon’s poor 60ft time I think his engine must have been off as he has previously managed 116mph through the lights albeit with a 13.2 second time.
The day wasn’t entirely incident free for these ultra-reliable kit-cars(!). I suffered a broken fan relay early in the day which took a while to rewire. James lost 2 fan belts and his ECU came loose in its socket. Stuart, spurred on by his PB, pressed so hard on the throttle on his next run that he snapped it off at the top of the pedal! He had to drive 50 miles home with only a brake and clutch! This was accomplished by setting the idle speed to 3000rpm.
As usual there were a bunch of interesting cars there. There was a standard BMW M3 E46 which was doing mid 14s, a standard looking Metro GTa complete with rusty rear arches that was faster than a Sierra Cosworth and a mark III Cortina with around 2000HP that was running 9.1s even when cruising over the second 1/8th. There was an immaculate Audi S4 that looked outwardly standard, but had no interior at all and was running high 12s at about 110mph. And, as usual, there were dozens of Renault 5 Turbos, Novas and Japanese hatchbacks in various states of tune.
If this has
whetted your appetite then there are plenty of RWYB dates every year – have a
(this article first published in the Sevenoaks Motor Club magazine 'The Acorn' in September 2003)
© Ian Crocker
Last updated on Dec 1st 2004