That certainly has to be one of the more bizarre blog titles I’ve written since first putting together posts for this site back in 2010. I’ve been deliberately holding off from writing anything throughout the last few months of confusion and panic around the world but, at the same time, I owe those of you who regularly check the blog and enjoy STL’s social media posts some words and pictures to keep you informed as to where we are at.
STREET TRACK LIFE LTD as a company extends far beyond this blog and the immediately visible merchandise and sticker sales. As lockdown in the UK came into effect around March time I personally wasn’t sure what to expect on the business side of things but, thankfully, one of the newer parts of the company began doing particularly well and has continued to grow rapidly ever since. When we moved into our newer and larger premises last summer I expected that it might be suitable for at least a couple of years but, as it happens, just a couple of weeks ago we necessitated a move into two brand new and significantly larger units, along with taking on full time staff. It’s easy to read the news and become drowned in doom and gloom as reports of yet another bloated high street name going under fills the headlines but, behind the scenes, there are countless smaller companies working tirelessly to keep the ball rolling. I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved in 2020.
However, a consequence of the above is that the aforementioned blog posts, merchandise and social media that many became accustomed to with STL have had to be sidelined. While it was these platforms that allowed STL to reach what it has become, nowadays they represent a minute percentage of the company’s activities and so it’s simply unwise to dedicate a disproportionate amount of time to aspects of the company that don’t necessarily contribute to its upkeep. It sounds tough but, while I do enjoy writing blog posts, it simply isn’t responsible to spend a few hours putting words together when there are a hundred other jobs that could be done that would be more beneficial to the upkeep of STL, especially during a year of such uncertainty.
Business-aside, this year has been both a steep learning curve and an eye-opener for many of us in our personal lives and there have been a couple of things that have really stood out to me over the past few months. Too much social media and arguing with strangers on the internet is unhealthy (deleting Facebook feels like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders), street cars are the best (when the only driving you can enjoy is to your workplace or to the supermarket for “essential items”, you might as well do it in something that you enjoy), appreciate those immediately around you (stop worrying about impressing people online that you might come face to face with one or two times a year) and, finally, get hold of a cheap bicycle. Random, I know (and certainly not for everyone) but, the best thing I bought all year was a 35 year old Peugeot road bike on eBay for £100. Riding is great for the mind and, contrary to popular belief, it is possibly to enjoy both driving and cycling.
Anyway, with that out of the way it’s time to talk about a track day that I attended back in August. Compared to the track day I attended previously (also at Oulton Park, albeit in very cold spring conditions back in March), the weather was scorching hot (by UK standards, at least). Cooler temperatures usually lead to much more enjoyable track days, with tyres staying within their optimum operating range for more laps and brake fluid staying below its boiling point for a longer period of time. So, while the rest of the country flocked to beaches to enjoy some socially distanced sunbathing sponsored by the UK’s furlough scheme, I made my way to Oulton Park in the STL C33 Laurel wondering which silicone boost pipe joiner I was going to melt first.
I’ve been to a few fabled international car spotting locations in Japan in the past (Daikoku Futo, Izumiotsu PA etc.) but I do feel that the Shell petrol station a few minutes outside of Oulton Park’s gates could serve as somewhat of a tribute, especially at 730am on the morning of a midweek track day. Clearly aggravated van drivers and commuters on their way to their respective offices were forced to wait their turn as a plethora of Porsches, a selection of BMW M cars and one shonky pillar-less Nissan saloon car took on-board as much V-Power as they could before making the final five minute jaunt to the circuit.
I began to think that I might have accidentally booked onto a “supercar driver” track day at this point but alas, the Renault Clio brigade must have undertaken their morning fuel-up a little bit earlier as the pits were already teeming with them.
Coming from a drifting background I can’t help but feel over-prepared when arriving at a traditional track day, looking over my shoulder at an aforementioned Clio driver calmly remove a Halfords 100 piece socket set from their boot while I set about unloading enough spare parts to begin building another late 80s/early 90s Nissan. Perhaps I’m used to everything falling apart or exploding as per the norm at a drift day, although it must be said that track days are quite relaxing in the sense that you aren’t necessarily pushing the drivetrain to destruction with various clutch kicks and mistimed handbrake grabs.
Such is life in 2020 there was no physical drivers briefing, only a series of instructional videos that arrived via email and must be watched in their entirety prior to heading out on track. The email arrived the night prior to the event, so naturally I watched it on my walk to the pub while giving it my undivided attention.
As soon as the pit lane opened it was immediately apparent that this would be a day on which to take things steady. Thirty minute sessions at full attack simply weren’t an option in the Laurel with its lack of proper cooling or brake ducting (as per the drifter’s handbook). I didn’t push my luck as seat time was still plentiful, but I knew that the car wouldn’t be best pleased with anything more than a warm up lap followed by three, four or maybe even five (if I was feeling particularly excited) flying laps before following up with a cool down lap and a return to the pits for a thorough nut and bolt check.
My biggest fears were either the brakes boiling prior to one of the big braking points at the end of one of the longer straights (which happened last time round, although disaster was thankfully averted) or a silicone boost pipe joiner melting, leaving me stranded somewhere on the circuit. Thankfully, neither of these worst case scenarios occurred as I was quite disciplined with my warm up/flying lap/cool down strategy, which left me quite relieved. However, let’s not forget that this is an old Nissan, so of course the turbo elbow fell off.
Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. The uppermost bolt worked itself loose, fell out on track somewhere and the uppermost section of the turbo elbow flange had a very small blow from where it wasn’t being sealed against the turbo. Through some luck (or perhaps through proper preparation of bringing with me multiple boxes containing a random collection of assorted Nissan parts and fittings, you decide), I had a suitable replacement bolt that could be installed once the exhaust system had cooled down sufficiently.
It was at this point that I began thinking back to some of the old school competition turbo cars I had seen at previous Oulton Park Gold Cup events, with the bolt heads having small holes drilled through them and with lockwire (or “Safety Wire” according to Google) linking together all of the respective turbo elbow bolts. The usual parts shops for shonky Nissans don’t seem to carry anything like this, but I would definitely be interesting in improving my turbo setup with some of these fittings. It might be a bit of a faff to sort out to begin with but, if it means me not lifting the bonnet and staring at my engine, scratching my head and working out how many pounds per minute I’m wasting by not being out on track, it’s definitely worthwhile.
Considering I hadn’t made any changes to the STL C33 since its previous track day outing (aside from the Euro Car Parts rear brake pads that caught fire last time out, so these were replaced with EBC Yellow Stuff equivalents), the Laurel continued to impress me with its relatively neutral handling and intuitive characteristics. With track and tyre temperatures being significantly higher than the last time out, it was especially rewarding to have more confidence in the car, carry more corner speed and stay in third gear for various bends as opposed to slowing down further and dropping to second (most notably for Shell Oils Corner, Britten’s, Hislop’s and Lodge – click here for an Oulton Park circuit map). This certainly gained me a large chunk of time over a lap while also reducing stress on the gearbox that would usually be experienced when banging from second up to third on the way out of the bends.
One area where I was definitely continuing to lose time was under braking, and I think this stems from having so much experience of driving old Nissans with negative six or more degrees of front camber with stretched 215 no-name tyres on 9J wheels; in other words, I’m used to hitting the brakes and the car instantly locking up.
Having had a similarly restrictive front wheel, tyre and geometry setup on the STL C33 at one point its life, I found it incredibly hard to shake the nagging fear that slamming on the brakes would simply result in a massive lock up and a voyage through the tyre barriers. While the car is now infinitely more stable and predictable under braking thanks to switching back to completely standard steering/suspension components with only a slight dab of negative camber and 225 tyres on 8J wheels, I was still struggling to have the braking confidence that I do when driving the STL P10 Primera.
It’s very telling that on my last flying lap of the day, as I braked a little bit later and harder descending into Hislop’s off the back straight (admittedly, completely by accident), I could immediately feel that I’d made up a lot of time. After reviewing the GoPro footage I made an educated guess that nailing this single braking point gained me around 1 to 1.5 seconds compared to previous laps, while these track days aren’t supposed to be about lap times, it was great to find an area where I have clearly been losing time. There’s no double that I lack experience on the circuit driving front, but I think it’s quite fair to say that my braking setup is definitely lacking (S14 front calipers/Z32 rear calipers linked to the original S13-spec master cylinder) and so some upgrades in this area could definitely help with improving my braking confidence. That, and an awful lot more practice.
If it wasn’t for the all-telling GoPro footage revealing so many deficiencies in my circuit driving abilities, it would be very easy to just throw more parts at the car to help it speed up more quickly and slow down even quicker. Seconds can be shaved from my new best lap time simply be improving my driving, which will hopefully come in time with practice.
Therefore, the only new parts being fitted should focus entirely on extending the number of flying laps the Laurel can endure before needing a metaphorical sit down in the pits, as this would help me to get a lot more miles under my belt and also allow me to push the car harder without quite as much fear of the brakes melting or a turbo pipe falling apart. I need to put together a set of front brake ducts as there don’t appear to be too many off-the-shelf options for S/R-chassis braking setups, while also focusing on heat management within the engine bay.
When preparing a car for drifting its so easy to just chuck an aluminium radiator here and dangle an oil cooler there and cross “cooling upgrades” off your to-do list but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from observing other tin-top cars in motorsport, it’s that proper ducting is essential for reliable cooling. Be it some aluminium sheeting directing air into the radiator or the beautiful carbon fibre oil cooler inlet and outlet clamshell that I spotted on one of the ex-BTCC Nissan Primeras a few years ago, there are so many ways to go about it.
Heat management within the engine bay is another aspect that I need to address, be that with some reflective material along the edges of the bay or perhaps even a turbo blanket, we will see.
With temperatures peaking at around thirty degrees celsius for an extended period of the day I was getting through drinking water like there was no tomorrow. Inside the car the heat didn’t feel too bad (a lot of the circuit is shaded by trees, which might have helped) but, as soon as you would return to the pits the heat would hit you and you realised that you needed a change of t-shirt. When the time came to load up the Laurel with all my spares and tools, the heat exhaustion hit me along with a pounding headache and the overwhelming urge to throw up. Neither of which are symptoms that you wish to have when climbing into a noisy Nissan for a drive home but, an emergency stop at the nearest Tesco Express on the way home to purchase each and every type of fruit that I could eat with one hand on the steering wheel was deemed to be my best option for a cure. As it transpired, pineapple, watermelon and apples did the job; who needs paracetamol anyway?
Anyway, that’s enough for this long-overdue blog post. As I write this during Lockdown 2.0 I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be next on track, and any serious work on the STL cars has taken a backseat to expanding the company and completing the furnishing of our new premises. However, I have been daily driving the STL Y32 Cedric for the last couple of months, and the work it took to drag that car from a broken, non-running mess to a useable daily driver is probably worthy of another blog post. I’ll get round to writing it sometime soon!
Thanks again for your continued support.
All photos taken by Laurie Southern Photo.