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Could you suggest somebody from M.G. Car Club who would like to, and be able to be at Castle Combe to sample the MGF on its racing car debut a few days hence? asked the telephone caller. Chris Belton of Roversport. Could I? Only about the half the club! And so it was that after a few swift laps with Tony Pond in the extremely competent Rover 620 TI to view the circuit, that I was strapped into the development car that had recently returned from its month long hot weather testing at Kyalami circuit in South Africa. No, there are not any vacancies on the test team and if there are ever the queue will probably consist of the whole of M.G. Car Club!
So what is it like, this latest of our favourite cars in competition form? Well, before describing its handling and performance I had better describe the car itself.
The test car was the 1.8i version without the ABS brake set up but with electric power steering. The interior is equipped with a very snug race seat with head rest and an extremely thorough full roll cage with diagonal roof bar and door bars. Full harness and an on board fire extinguisher system completed the more obvious interior changes. Mechanically the car was fairly standard but had hydrogas suspension unit changes, improved suspension subframe mounts, shorter steering arms to improve still further the already excellent steering response, grooved brake discs, revised pad material and competition brake lines. An increased radiator capacity and a forward mounted oil cooler should take care of any overheating tendencies on short tight circuits or rally mountain work. However, losing temperature was not a problem at Castle Combe in mid February when virtually the entire country was in the grip of snow!
Although not fitted to the test car a special single skin competition hardtop is available in a revised form from standard with a very pleasing shape with distinct retro styling.
The revisions were called for to allow for the RAC and FIA roll cage dimensional requirements to be met. Frankly I think both the standard hardtop and the competition one complement the car and I would be hard pressed to choose! However, a hardtop it is because the roll cage takes up the hood frame and stowage areas.
So having been strapped into this much used but, still taunt development car, I was directed to the circuit entrance with the exhortation of not to bend it ringing in my ears.
Cecil Kimber can rest assured that his watch words of Safety Fast have been taken note of and very competently engineered into this motor car because the handling was just superbly safe with lovely sharp steering response. The car was shod on Dunlop 205x50x15 buffed 98J which, because of the below zero temperatures, never really got up to working heat but even so offered a superb level of grip. The brakes, hardly used at Combe with its flowing corners, offered excellent retardation. The engine was red lined at seven thousand RPM, with a rev limiter set just over that (sorry!) and seemed, despite the constant lappery during the day long session, entirely without vice and indeed idled in the paddock just like a shopping car. The five speed gearbox was quiet with a pleasant short throw shift but despite the length of the Combe straights 5th gear was just along for the ride.
Why not come with me for a lap of Castle Combe in the new MGF. Over the start/finish line - accelerating strongly in third gear - taking fourth just before the slight right bend of Folly and then positioning the M.G. over to the right to optimise the line through the left hand Avon Rise to achieve a left hand side of the circuit entry into what many regard as the most difficult corner at Combe, that of Quarry. Having just achieved 7000 in fourth over the crest of the rise it is difficult to maintain a straight line braking while dropping into third to take what initially appears as a too late apex into the right hand of Quarry. Too late be blowed! Because as many have found to their cost the corner goes on and on! Exciting on the left of the circuit - maximum in third and into fourth before a confidence lift before Old Paddock. The car turns in and goes through the quickest right hander as if on rails. With the accelerator as they say buried you flow through the appropriately named left hand Hammerdown! Corner to the third gear entry to Tower, a right hander, again no drama at all, even with full power the back still faithfully follows the front - what does one have to do to get this car out of line? Perhaps now is not the moment to find out! So again the right hand pedal is buried to a red line in third and 6500 in 4th before a third gear entry into the sweeping right handed Camp corner, managed to squeal the tyres here last lap, that brought the heads up in the paddock, better not do that again, they want it back in one piece! And over the line to commence another lap. Lovely, Safety Fast indeed! With lap times expected in the sub 1 minute 20 seconds at Combe this will be an ideal club car which could be used for racing, rallying, indeed just about any event available.
Roversport can now supply all of the parts used in this development car and with two of the Club's Championships, Phoenix and Cockshoot, already having classes for the MGF the opportunity is there for the taking. Rover Japan and Rover France are running championships and there is a major opportunity to run perhaps a multi discipline event in the UK.
The race debut of the F will have taken place at Cadwell on 24th March by the time you read this and we are sure to have a number at Silverstone with opportunities for Fs to compete in at least four events. The future for the F looks bright - watch this space as they say.