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"Just push it into a corner and it feels like its running on rails. This is because . . . the MGF has its engine and therefore most of the weight in the centre. Technically speaking this gives it a low polar moment of inertia. Or, in plain English, a high reluctance to spin." This is the advertising blurb. And quite right it is too. The less the tyre has to work at turning the car round a corner, the more grip it has to keep you on the road. So you can go faster round the corner. Sounds good to me!
And if you use your MGF in conditions where there is low adhesion between tyre and road, the advantages that other cars may have (better tyres and suspension, more power, better drivers) can rapidly disappear. The best example I can give you of this is the Goodwood Sprint this year, when it poured with rain half way though the day.
Let me take you on a lap of the circuit in a genuinely showroom condition MGF - exactly the same tyres and trim as yours. The only difference is in the choice of cassette tape (most of you would not choose T.Rex, Slade, Dusty Springfield and The Animals!). Remember, now it is wet, we will go faster than 20 seconds intervals. We are lined up first of the batch. Lights on. Wipers on. Stereo on. Damn - tape is on the wrong side - it's Blondie. No time to fiddle with it, so it'll have to do. Green light on, drop the clutch at 3000 rpm and get endless wheelspin. Seems to take for ever to travel 50 yards. Hopefully it's raining so much no-one is watching! Then up to speed, through the gears for the first right hander. We can't see round it at all, but ease off as the curve takes us into the entry. Slide across the first apex, but don't go right out where there is some mud left by a Mini Cooper. Across the second apex and flat out through the left and right curves. Look out for standing water - its not called Fordwater for nothing!
Then we come towards St Mary's, a sharp left hander which drops away from us. All we can see as we come into the corner is the brow and the local church in the distance. First is a right hander, try to take this fairly slow so that we don't go across onto the wrong side if the road to enter St Mary's. Not too bad, now how fast dare we go through St Mary's? Well, I've never overcooked this one, so try a little harder. Oh Dear! Going too fast! We are sliding rather too sideways and running out of road as we drop away downhill on the exit. It's a copybook four wheel drift, just in the book the road is 20 feet wider! What can we do? Nothing. Just have sit still, wait and hope. There's no gravel trap, just a cornfield. I know this doesn't sound too bad, but I'm told the plough does not leave a perfectly flat surface . . . Look there's a couple of feet of drier track on the edge, just before the grass. The whole car almost judders as it picks up grip here and continues. Wave at the marshal in embarrassment.
Now the hairpin. Try and forget the last mistake - can't afford to slow down too much. Brake early as it's so wet. Come out really wide half way round for a good line onto the long, long straight. Shout at the poor little motor to give us more power to take it round. Notice the front offside tyre clips the little yellow painted triangle the driving school have used to mark to apex.
Then relax. The tape is still on - Union City Blues sings Debbie Harry. Take a couple of breaths, go back up to fourth and see how fast. About 110, is it worth tyring 5th? Not really, in the wet at least. Last big corner, the right hander at the end of the long downhill straight. The distance markers go by. Just when do we brake? It all seems rather academic, as if the grassed run off and tyre wall aren't really there. Well, early this time, change down, and round the double apex right hander in one sweep. Flick through the chicane, one last jab on the accelerator, and through the timing beam. Another lap - don't worry, we'll go into St Mary's a bit slower this time! Back through the pit lane, helmet off, go and look for the time.
You can have that much fun even if you are an average-ish sort of driver like me. What if you are a good driver? John Dignan is generally recognised as the best in the M.G.C.C. Speed Championship, and has been flying and driving all sorts of things for many years. Here's what he said after driving my NGF at a sprint (and beating me by an embarrassing margin!). The car is obviously safe and predictable and in its 120hp spec seems to display mild oversteer with progressive power input at the limit in the dry. Compared to the RV8 it is more modern in feel by a quantum leap. The brakes are much more sensitive, however both lock up when pushed. I think you are wise to order your new VVC with stiffer suspension, it will make it much easier to set the car into a cornering balance and if the roll stiffness is increased will make S bends a joy to drive. The thing I will remember is the way one can drift the MGF through a corner, particularly the 90 left soon after the start. One had to anticipate it by turning about 10 yards early at slightly faster than the max steady speed and pointing the car inside the curve by about 10 degrees. It never worked at the hairpin before; however with another 25hp it should stop the understeer pushing the car wide. The term pushing the car wide by the way, is the technical term for both of us going off the corner!
Is there a downside to sprinting and hillclimbing your MGF? Well, one or two. Your MGF does weigh over a ton and the power output is less than some modified MGBs. So don't think you are going to beat everyone else hollow just because it's a newer car. From a technical point of view, there can be drawbacks to this business of a low polar moment of inertia we mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Basically, just as it doesn't take up much force to turn an MGF round a corner, it may slide and spin suddenly, even if at much higher speeds than you could sensibly manage on the road. But finding out how to do all this is part of the fun. As you are only racing against the clock, you cannot drive into another car.
Are you interested? Well, try it out. If you don't like it, fine. But how will you know if you don't try?
Many MGF owners may be new to the M.G.C.C., so here is a brief run down on all the basic types of motorsport that you can try, as well as sprints. They are dead easy to enter and really should not damage you car. Your self esteem may take a bit of a knock if you reckon you are Fangio or Nuvolari reincarnated, but what is 10% off self esteem compared to 50% on self knowledge and inner peace?
Navigational scatter or Naviscat
You and your navigator will follow a series of clues around the countryside. Clues will be cryptic and the event will be something of a brainteaser. Speed is not needed. Read the Centre noted for a local event, phone up for details and enter! All you need is a Club membership card.
Gymkhana and Driving Tests
Driving around obstacle courses, basically. Gymkhanas are designed more to test pure skills, and you do it with a passenger. Driving tests (or autotests) are on your own against the clock. Again plenty of these events are organised around the country, read you local Centre notes. The MGF must be interesting to autotest - I guess it won't slide much on those big rear tyres, but the power steering will make it very quick on tight turns. You might need the ultrasound parking aid option for the reversing tests though!
The idea is to get as far as possible up a muddy slope. Ok so its not everyone's cup of tea, but I would do more of it if the skill factor wasn't so high. The MGF, with engine near the back, must be at an advantage for this type of event. Speak to the organiser, but if you enter a Production Car Trial, the ground surface should not be a threat to your cat. Again, no special licence needed for a PCT.
Sprints and Hillclimbs
The M.G.C.C. Moss Norwester Open Speed Championship will welcome you to a national series of events, including major venues such as Prescott Walsh hillclimb, Goodwood circuit and Shelsley Walsh hillclimb. The car itself requires no modification, apart from a piece of paper on the dash to mark the direction for ignition off and a timing strut, which is easy to make - see the photo. You will need a helmet and overalls and a licence from the RAC Motor Sports Association.
Racing and Rallying
Obviously a bit more specialised. You need a bit more in the way of licences for racing, but the M.G.C.C. Phoenix Challenge will welcome you. Even if you race a showroom standard MGF, there will be plenty of close competition all around you. As far as rallies go, I understand an MGF has been rallying this year, you can probably track the drivers down for a chat through RoverSport or myself.
If you are interested in any of this, give it a go! If you want to look closer before going yourself, then come and marshal at an event or two. I started this way. You get a good view and a chance to chat to others experienced in motorsport. Or take your MGF to a track test day. Safety Fast! is full of telephone numbers of various organisers to contact, and we were all beginners once, so don't be shy!
The birth of the MGF signals a chance for the M.G. Car Club to reverse its trend of an ageing (and decreasing) membership of both cars and people, and build on the new platform so graciously provided by Rover Group. This trend must happen within the club as a whole and, if the club is to proceed in its role as organisers of high quality, successful race meetings, by the racing fraternity as well. To this end, the news that an MGF was to be entered in the M.G. Car Club Phoenix Championship was greeted with great delight by those of us who follow motorsport at club level.
With the above in mind, I took the advantage of a free Friday afternoon to drive to the Rover Engineering Centre at Gaydon to talk to Don Kettleborough about the team, the car and the season so far of the only MGF racing in the UK at present.
To understand why the F was chosen to race, and how Gaydon Team Spirit was pulled together. I asked Don to explain the team's history. Don himself has been involved with the PR3 (the code name for the MGF) engineering programme since day one, and moved with the project through its development stages from Longbridge and then finally to Gaydon. The decision to race the car was taken in early 1995, around the time that the car was launched in Geneva.
Gaydon Team Spirit was originally started in 1989 by a group of fitters in the main workshop with senior management backing, and whilst none of the original group are still involved in the team. Don himself has been involved since the team started preparing their first car, a Rover 800 Vitesse, as he was the only person in the group who had any previous experience of motorsport, having rallied from 1965 to 1968, raced Mini Cooper S's from 1969 to 1971 and rallied a variety of Mini Coopers, an Allegro, Lotus Cortina and Hillman Imp from 1972 to 1976. In 1976 he retired from competitive motorsport, but was persuaded out of retirement for the 1989 season. The Rover 800 Vitesse was complete by mid 1989 and Don shared the second half of the season with Trevor Davies, doing a dozen or so tarmac rallies whilst the plan for 1990 was formulated.
The Vitesse was rebuilt for 1990 with a new shell and Trevor did the West Midlands Tarmac Rally championship, whilst Don concentrated on the Welsh Clubmans Championship which consisted of forest rallies. 1990 was a reasonable season and Don finished with a 4th overall in class.
Towards the end of 1990 Roversport was set up within Rover with the intention of running a couple of championships, one championship circuit based and the other a combination of circuit racing and rallying, using Metro GTi's. At this point in his Rover career, Don was working on a project R6 which was to evolve to be the Metro replacement. A plan was hatched between Don and Brian Griffin, R6 Chief Engineer (later PR3 Chief Engineer) to convince the senior management to let them run a second car, in addition to the Vitesse on the premise that it was as cost effective to run two cars as to run one! This second car is still run by the Gaydon Team, but in 1991 it competed with Don at the wheel in the circuit/rally championship which consisted of 6 events of each type, and the team finished an excellent runner up in the championship. 1992 saw a repeat attack on the championship, but the number of rounds was reduced, however this did not stop Don from winning the championship. Near the end of 1992 a new Metro GTi was built and the Vitesse was pensioned off. The new car was used for the 1993 championship and the original GTi H 57 TWP was used for single venue rallies. The 1993 drivers championship was sewn up by Don in July with half the season still to complete, but the Co-drivers race was still to be decided. In the last rally of the season at Otterburn where vital points were needed, the car was involved in a major accident on the second stage, which kept both driver and navigator with multiple injuries, a wrecked rally car and a view back home that was not conducive to the continuation of a rallying career!
1994, having convinced her 'indoors' (Sandra) that circuit racing was miles safer than rallying a new Metro GTi was built to compete in the National Saloon Car Cup race championship which had promised a number of Metro entries, however only two appeared for the first round, and the second one failed to appear at any other rounds, so a frustrating season was spent dicing with 2 litre cars, obtaining lap records and taking class wins.
For 1995 a change in the saloon car regulations meant that the 1400 Metro would be outclassed (the championship being run in two classes up to 2 litre and over 2 litre), and a decision was taken within the team to return the GTi to rally car. In 1995, the car competed in the Motoring News Championship and founds its niche against 1600 Novas and Escorts, culminating in a 3rd place in the championship, however, half way through the season, it was decided than an MGF would be acquired as soon as they became available to be prepared to race for the 1996 season as the GTis were coming to the end of their competitive life.
Since the beginning of his involvement with the team, Don has been the co-ordinator dealing with management at Rover, the nice Rover finance man and sponsorship issues. The decision to race the F rather than rally it was made on the basis that it would be easier to attract sponsorship for a race car than a rally car, and that Don through his past history with the team would drive it, with some other members of the team doing one off sprints etc. Various sponsors were contacted with a draft proposal and help and support was received from various companies, the team also found themselves approached by companies when their plan became general knowledge, current sponsors include Edward's of Stratford, Dunlop, Autoliv, Automotive Products, British Motor Heritage and M.G. Cars. With the racing plan formulated and sponsorship in place, the only problem left to be solved was which championship to race in. Back in July 1995, the M.G. Car Club under the advice of Ron Gammons registered an MGF Championship with the RACMSA to ensure that the championship remained with the club, however when Don approached Ron Gammons about a suitable championship for the car, it was obvious that in the first couple of years of life, there would be insufficient racing Fs to justify a championship of its own, the rules of the Phoenix Championship were therefore reassessed and the F was duly entered. The team is really two teams within one, Don, Graham Askew, Dave Paget and Rob Rainsford work mainly on the MGF and Rob Stone, Ian Stokes and Kevin Brooks mainly run the GTi - H58 TWP, but also go racing with the F. Until recently in his career, Don spent all his time on the MGF development programme, and is currently working on a new project at Gaydon which he would not tell me anything about, Graham Askew also works at Gaydon as a development/test engineer working on a new large car project. Dave Paget works at Gaydon in component support (parts department) and I can personally confirm that in his role as team tea maker, he excels! Rob Rainsford is the only member of the team who currently doesn't work at Gaydon, being situated at Canley, working in the trim and hardware department.
However, a move is on the cards for him soon. The other three guys all work at Gaydon, Rob Stone who rallies the GTi works on test and development of the Rover 200, Ian Stokes and Kevin who navigates the GTi work in product assurance (homologation to the uneducated amongst us) and Kevin is a fitter in N.V.H., so between them there is a great deal of expertise, experience and motoring diversity to hopefully deal with any problems which come up during the season.
The car is a QP4 car which is chassis number 48. The MGF production life started with the first model of the car, a simulator. The next stage of production was the DO2 spec cars which look like the actual car. The first cars which actually came down the line and were used to test the systems in place were designated the D1 validation cars, these cars provided the cars from which the validation and homologation certificates are issued. The next generation of cars ran from range QP1 to QP4, each stage from 1 to 4 saw minor changes to interior spec etc., and it is from this range that the racer came. The show cars used at Geneva probably came from this stage of production as well. Just to complete the story of MGF production, the next cars built were deemed to be from the M build and these cars were used to provide the press cars, then the volume cars finally came off line. Production of volume cars, in adherence to tradition started with chassis number 251 (which is the car at the Gaydon museum).
The race car is using a standard body shell, the main differences between the race car and a road car is in the chassis and suspension where the gas units have been modified so that each corner of the car is independent, Koni race dampers have also been employed. A close ratio gear box has also been fitted with the lowest possible final drive, and Don assured me that all parts were available out of the parts bin at Longbridge and therefore within easy reach of MGF owners. A steel flywheel is used in conjunction with the Tomcat Turbo race clutch. Up to 1st June, the car was run with a slightly modified 1.8i engine which was giving about 140bhp, but this has now been replaced by a standard VVC unit. The car is running a straight through exhaust system to a rear box, and the car is run on standard VVC wheels as the regulations state that the car must be run on its standard width rims. The car is fitted with a full roll cage and safety equipment which was obtained through Roversport parts. Some items on the car are akin to the race kit which has been produced for the French and Japanese Championships, but some items have not been used, for example, the car runs the Roversport oil cooling kit, but the standard water cooling system. A Roversport hardtop is fitted to the car as the standard hard top does not fit over the roll cage, and the hardtop is manufactured in Kevlar so that it is far lighter than the standard one. The car runs dependent on the weather on either Dunlop racing slick or treaded tyres. The braking systems on the car is a matter which is currently under review and AP are using the car as a test for a revised braking system, the conversion of which should be completed soon and will help AP with their queries which they have received from the Japanese market.
I brought up the subject of conversion costs with Don (as hopefully all MGF owners are budding racing drivers), and the basic conversion kit can be bought from Roversport which would convert a road car to a car to the same specification as the cars running in the French and Japanese Championships for around #4000, however having done 2/3 of the season against modified Midgets, Don didn't think that this would give a competitive car, without more effort (and therefore money) being pushed into the project. Rover currently show no signs of running a Roversport supported championship in the UK but it would be wonderful to see more than one F on the circuit at M.G. Car Club meetings.
The season started with the bang of champagne corks with the F winning its first race out of the box at Silverstone in March under very wet conditions. The car has competed in every round of the Phoenix Championship, finished every time, and is currently leading the championship, however with John Stopes finding his feet in his modified Midget the end of the season looks like being a real nail biter as both drivers will have to drop a number of rounds to find out who has won the title. I for one will be cheering for the F despite owning a Midget and a Metro both of which feature strongly in the Championship, although I'll save some cheers for my boss in his MGB GT without whom you wouldn't be reading this article as it was typed on the office computer!
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