A couple of blog posts ago I wrote quite extensively regarding the future of the STL C33 Laurel. Last week I finally took the plunge and took what was previously a drift car on a traditional track day; here’s what happened.
Since writing that blog post I continued to work on the car while daily driving it whenever I could, working my way through any niggles or annoyances that presented themselves. In my experience, this is the best way to find out what works and what doesn’t, and it’s much less frustrating finding a problem on the road as opposed to discovering it at an expensive drift or track day when you’re already pushed for time.
One of the longest running jokes with the STL Laurel has always been how comically slow the starter motor was to crank. I always assumed it was because of the very small battery in the boot and continued to put up with it, never starting the car with the radio or heaters switched on in case they drained valuable voltage!
The starter motor also used to get stuck quite frequently, which often resulted in some quite hilarious quick fixes. The most memorable would probably be having both the starter motor and battery give up on me on the first floor of a Morrisons multi storey car park in Birmingham a few years ago. A nearby RAC man refused to help me as I wasn’t a member, so defiantly I pushed the Laurel down the car park ramp, jumped in through the door and just managed to bump start it just in time before screeching to a halt before the car ploughed into any others on the ground floor.
Looking back I can’t believe I put up with something for so long that would have me worried every time I went to start the car. As luck would have it, I found an SR20 starter motor in a big box of old Nissan parts that I had lying around (presumably removed from my old PS13) and so I swapped it in immediately. As it turned out, the original starter motor had completely separated in two and was being held together by one of the wires. With the replacement installed the Laurel now started no worse than a brand new car, meaning I can now crank it over on a freezing cold morning with a slightly reduced heart rate.
Anyway, enough about silly problems that should have never been left to continue for so long without being remedied. The point I’m trying to make is, it doesn’t matter how fancy your suspension or tyres or exhaust is; it’s the simplest of things that can ruin the experience of trying to drive an old car regularly, so you should always try and take care of the most basic of components so as to not ruin your fun (starter motor, radio, heaters etc.).
With that simple issue now resolved, it was time to turn myself to the rest of the car’s foibles. Every time I wrote a list of jobs I wanted to do before taking it on a traditional track day (which was the plan all along), I seemed to be able to come up with more and more tasks that I was convinced needed tackling before taking it anywhere near a circuit.
This wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and is a trap that so many of us fall into with our cars from time to time. Thankfully, while browsing Instagram I spotted a post from Track Obsession which detailed an upcoming track day at Oulton Park in two week’s time. It was local, relatively cheap and gave me a deadline to work towards. I booked it, immediately began panicking and then drew up a list of absolutely essential “must fix” parts that I would need to tackle in this time.
The brakes were the most critical area that I needed to address and, while the most ideal fix would have been to replace the frankly inadequate S14 front callipers and discs with much larger alternatives, that wouldn’t have been the most sensible use of time or money when the purpose of this maiden track day was just to see if the C33 Laurel platform was actually any good for circuit use.
All I needed was to be able to get around the track in a safe and reliable manner, and so I ordered up a set of new drilled & grooved brake discs for the front and rear, along with a pair of Ferodo DS2500 pads for the front (a pad which had worked quite well on the STL P10 Primera) and a pair of Euro Car Parts bargain specials for the rear (this turned out to be a poor decision, but more on that later).
After filling the brake system with a fresh dousing of TYP200 “Super Blue” fluid, it was time to turn my attention to the engine bay. In an ideal world, I would need to fashion a heatshield around the manifold and turbo, along with providing some additional ducting to the radiator and oil cooler, but there was no time for any of this and so I hoped that the freezing cold ambient temperatures in the UK in late February would be on my side. Instead, I decided to focus on the parts that could quite easily ruin my day: silicone boost joiners and the front mount intercooler.
Having had a number of heavy impacts in the Laurel over the years, the intercooler was hardly looking very fresh and it was quite likely that it would be littered with holes. I removed it and took it to a Ford specialist over the road who kindly pressure tested the core for me. Unbelievably, it was completely leak free, so it immediately went back on the car.
The silicone joiners on the intercooler pipework had faired less well, with many showing signs of rips and cracks. I ordered up a fresh set of replacements and treated the joiner closest to the turbo and manifold to some reflective heat wrap, as this is the joiner that has a tendency to melt when running an equal length bottom-mount manifold on an SR20.
Now that I was satisfied with the turbo/boost side of things it was time for one last essential job: tyres. Along with the black set of staggered SSR A-Techs that I had picked up last year, I also recently bought another staggered set in a Gunmetal colour that featured a pair of rear wheels with a weaker offset. This was crucial if I was to fit a big pair of tyres under the C33’s very narrow wheel arches and so, after getting a crack in one of these SSRs welded up, I ordered in a set of 17″ Federal RSR Pro tyres.
While Federal RSR’s are hardly the ultimate in track day tyres, they worked well on the P10 Primera and, crucially, they are relatively cheap. Seeing as I wasn’t 100% sure that the sizes I was ordering would be suited to the Laurel, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend a fortune on tyres that might not fit. Also, it also turned out to be quite difficult to find 45 profile 17″ semi slick tyres, and the new Federal RSR Pro was thankfully available in suitable 225/45-17 sizing.
With the new wheels and tyres mounted up the Laurel was beginning to look quite purposeful; certainly a completely different style to the 17×9.5Js with 215/40-17s that I used to run on the rear. After a panicked eye-lignment the night before the track day, it was time to load up my tools and spares and try and get a good night’s sleep before an early start the next day.
I must admit, waking up to find your car covered in snow is probably not the most ideal way to start a day at the track and, while it was very tempting to simply go back to bed, I scraped off the snow and began the drive to Oulton Park down country lanes covered in slushy snow while being battered with hail. Ideal.
Thankfully I had stumped up the extra entry fee to book myself a pit garage for the day, which at least gave me some shelter from the elements. While the rain had at least stopped and the track was only covered in water (as opposed to snow), the cold temperature didn’t give me much hope that it would dry up anytime soon.
After a coffee, breakfast and the mandatory drivers briefing, it was time to get unpacked and do some essential work and checks before venturing onto the track for the first time.
These checks included a quick fluid inspection, tyre pressure settings, getting the harnesses adjusted suitably, a rapid bleed of the brakes…
…and of course, a suitable soundtrack for the day’s driving.
I also took the time to install my STL tow strap to the rear. I didn’t want to tempt fate but, considering the conditions, the last thing I wanted to do was delay proceedings by getting stuck in the gravel and causing an almighty delay by making the recovery job more difficult than it need be.
I thought I had covered all of the bases reasonably well, so it was time to hop aboard and join the pit lane queue to join the track. While getting on track is usually a very quick affair, the first session of the day was always going to be a little slower due to the mandatory noise checks before any car could hit the circuit.
The Laurel passed these noise test with flying colours (I was somewhat surprised, to be honest!), so it was time to venture onto the Oulton Park International circuit layout and tip toe my round in the mixed conditions.
By this point the track had started to dry and there had already been a plethora of red flags due to various cars (mainly FWDs, from what I could see) getting caught out by the half dry/half wet conditions. I thought to myself that, at least one benefit of the RWD Laurel would be being able to controllably slide around a bit if I got caught out, as opposed to finding myself in a barely controllable tank slapper like you can find yourself in in a FWD car.
Thankfully, many years of playing TOCA as a child meant that I knew the track layout very well, but finding the grip in these conditions was another matter altogether. And then, just as the track had begun to dry, a very brief hailstorm began as I powered down the back straight. Not ideal!
Thankfully, after that point, the sun came out properly and the circuit quickly dried out. I soon found my feet and continued to get more confident. Due to the C33’s power level I initially found myself in an awkward position where I would be powering by lightweight hatchbacks on the straights, but quickly came under fire from them again as we approached braking points.
After the lunch break I was quite happy with my progress and so got ready to try a little harder. I still wasn’t going to push 100% and risk missing a braking point or breaking something at this point, but I thought this would be an ideal time to strap a couple of GoPros on-board.
While this was now the warmest point of the day with the sun high in the sky, the temperatures were far from what you might describe as “toasty” (just as you would expect them to be in England in February..!). This was a key factor in me deciding to book this particular track day, as I knew the Laurel’s SR20 power plant would likely run quite hot and throwing warm ambient temperatures into the mix wasn’t going to help me to get some decent seat time at this stage.
Despite this, it soon became apparent that five or six flying laps at a time would be the most that the car could handle before needing a cool down period. While the oil and coolant temperatures remained relatively normal, it was the brakes and engine bay temperatures that were the main concern.
In all honesty, both of these factors were to be expected. With such a large part of the wiring loom running through the engine bay and a number of ancillaries sitting near the manifold/turbo, it was these items that were getting very hot very quickly. While I could have continued driving, the last thing I wanted was a melted loom ending my day, so I felt it was better to err on the side of caution.
The brakes were another matter. As I mentioned previously, the front brake setup features the same components that I have successfully used on the STL P10 Primera. However, with the Laurel having the best part of twice the horsepower, it was quickly apparent that this setup wasn’t quite as effective when reaching corners 20/30mph faster than I might have done in the P10!
Ultimately, it was the cheap as chips Euro Car Parts rear brake pads that eventually let me down. As it was getting towards the last half an hour of the day, I crested Hill Top and made my approach to the Knickerbrook chicane flat out in fourth gear. The moment I began to depress the brake pedal I immediately felt that it was lacking quite a lot of pressure, which has to be one of the most unnerving feelings you can experience on track! I captured this on the GoPro footage, which you can view in the video at the bottom of this post.
Thankfully, the pedal had just enough pressure right at the end of its travel to slow the Laurel down sufficiently and negotiate the chicane. What then followed was a slow and steady drive back to the pits, at which point the brake pedal was now serving next to no purpose whatsoever. As I pulled into the pit garage, it was quite clear that the right rear brake setup was smoking away and that the brake fluid had boiled.
I was very thankful that the situation hadn’t been worse and that, all things considered, this was the only reliability issue of the day. What was encouraging was that it is an issue that can easily be cured with better quality brake pads and a change of brake fluid, so it really isn’t too much of an ask to put right for next time.
After letting the brakes cool and checking to see whether they would hold up for the short drive home, it was time to load up all of my equipment and head home.
This has to be one of the most satisfying moments of any track or drift day; driving out of the pits having enjoyed a healthy amount of track time, passing through the circuit entrance/exit as the sun sets over your car full of tools and spares, ready for the road trip home. Typically I would take a picture at this point, but for some reason I completely forgot as I negotiated the Oulton Park ticket booths and passed over the Warwick Bridge into the Cheshire countryside.
All things considered, the day was much more of a success than I thought it would be. I was expecting woeful handling traits (with bad alignment, average brakes and the car’s general lack of rigidity being the main causes) to go hand in hand with dreadful reliability and, to be honest, I don’t think many people expected otherwise.
Looking back at the track day just over a week later and I have definitely been left with something to build upon. The STL C33 Laurel confidently showed that it had a lot more potential than I would have previously given it credit for and I really believe that it has a good future as a fast road/track day car.
The inevitable “to do” list has been written and various parts have already been ordered. All I need to do now is pull the trigger and get another track day booked…
Oh, one last thing! It looks like I completely forgot to make a blog post regarding the latest STREET TRACK LIFE merchandise collection. You can find new hoodies, long sleeve t-shirts, new sticker designs and various other items in the shop now!