Word and pictures - Chris Jenkins
As I write entries are rolling in for the 2014 Sport Specials championship, with 17 entries already received, including that of reigning champion Colin Benham who last year won Class B and the overall title with his STM Phoenix. Five new entries have been received, including one from yours truly.
As a fan of inter-marque racing and innovative designs, and having an aversion to rules, I was drawn to the Sport Specials by the fascinating mix of cars, liberal regulations, fabulous selection of circuits that the series visits, and of course, being part of Britain’s leading amateur motorsports club in their 75th anniversary year!
It has been quite a few years since I last raced on a circuit, having been forced to take a sabbatical over the past few years while I got married and bought myself a house, a familiar story for many amateur competitors I’m sure.
My first foray into competitive motorsport was way back in 1993, when my Sylva Leader 1700 Supersport was selected as a finalist in Cars and Car Conversions magazine’s Converted Car of the Year competition, fought out by way of a sprint contest at Curborough in the Midlands.
Above Left: Sylva Leader and newly built Fury, with its original Phoenix/Clubman mk4 nose
Above Right: The Cosworth YB powered Fury that inspired me to buy mine
Above Left: Fury rolling chassis at Fisher Sportscars in Kent. Above Right: Fury at Castle Combe
But after seeing a beautiful Sylva Fury at a track day at Castle Combe I knew I had to have one and in 1996 I ordered one from Mark Fisher’s Fisher Sportscars down in Kent and built it up as a road car with a Vauxhall/Cosworth XE 2 litre, Racelogic Traction Control, and 5 speed Type 9 gearbox. At the time there were no circuit racing series that would allow such a combination, so I did a lot of track days & “Run Wot You Brung” drag racing where anything goes.
Above: Fury at Santa Pod in UK Street Racers series
By 2001 I was taking drag racing a little bit more seriously and entered the UK Street Racers series for road legal cars. There the Fury found some success, finishing 3rd in the 4 cylinder class of the 2003 series. The series was regularly covered by Street Machine magazine, and I got to know the Editor and eventually became a staff writer for them. Once Street Machine morphed into American Car World, I began to campaign my 1993 Camaro Z/28 in the V8 class, and I had some great midfield battles with the Mustangs of Editor Richard Nicholls, former Doorslammer champ Jeff Manni, and the late model Camaro of Ray Comer, my Z/28 eventually running mid 12s at around 110mph.
Above: The Fury competed in the 0-60 challenge, shown by Men & Motors TV
Thanks to an opportunity created through the UK SRS, me and my Fury were featured in a TV programme called “0-60 Challenge” which was aired on Men & Motors TV, and featured title images shot one night from on board my Camaro! On a very rough bit of road somewhere near a remote nightclub up north, the Fury managed a best time of 4.5 seconds, behind some serious machinery including a Dialynx Audi Quattro Sport on slicks, a Twin Engined VW Golf, Hayabusa powered RWD Mini, the Big Block 2nd gen Corvette of Sue Jackson and supercharged V8 Audi Quattro of John Sleath both of which ran in Street Eliminator and all posting times deep in the 3s.
Above Left: The Fury in full race trim. Above Right: Fury at Santa Pod with UKSRS champion Andy Bonds 9 second Camaro in the background. The Fury managed a best of 12.2 seconds @ 108mph
During this time the Fury was converted to a full time race car by Caterham race team Aryliam Motorsports; its windscreen was replaced with an aeroscreen and a full roll cage was added along with a Caterham 6 speed gearbox and Caterham R500 magnesium rims. This was so I could take part in the Jaguar Car Club’s Centurion Challenge endurance racing series in 2004 and 2005. The Fury proved not to be the most reliable race car, and indeed on my race debut at Croft I had to park the Fury after practice and instead raced a Caterham 1600 Roadsports, which I took to a class win and lap record and brightened up my weekend no end!
Above Left: Caterham 1600 Supersport proved a good understudy for the Fury at Croft in 2004
Above Right: Yours truly with silverware in hand, together with co-driver Bob Green
Above Left: Camaro Z/28 had a 400bhp motor and a 150bhp shot of Nitrous, but with track suspension was tricky to launch well. Above Right: Corvette C6 Z06 is extremely quick, and required perfect technique to run 11.79 @ 125mph
Back to drag racing, and a wonderful 7 litre 505bhp Corvette C6 Z06 followed the Camaro and I took that to 4th place overall in 2007, the best result a standard car had ever achieved in the series. It’s best trick was returning 40mpg on the motorway heading back home again! My Z06 had previously been tested by John Barker and Dickie Meaden of EVO magazine in their 2006 Fast Club test, despatching such exotica as a Lamborghini Gallardo, Aston V8 Vantage and Marcos TSO, and only beaten by a 300 grand carbon chassis Ascari KZ1; in John Barkers hands and not yet fully run in, the Z06 set the EVO magazine record for peak speed on the Bedford West Circuit at 120mph and also fastest GT lap, neither of which were ever beaten as the track layout changed slightly a year or two later. I beat EVOs standing start acceleration times a couple of years later when I tested the car for ACW at Bruntingthorpe, posting 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and 0-100 in 8.1, as by then the car had fully loosened up.
Above Left: Z06 at Bedford for EVO magazines Fast Club group test in March 2006, with only 300 miles on the clock! Above Right: Z06 at Bruntingthorpe in 2008 for ACW Musclecar Shootout
During my Sabbatical while I edited Circuits Magazine and the related Motor Sport Circuit Guide website, I took up virtual racing in Gran Turismo Academy. GT Academy is a superb development for Motor Sport and really helps bring new talent into the sport. Being such a great simulator means that you can hone your reactions & race driving skills in complete safety, doing thousands of laps without spending a penny on track days or running costs. From that point of view it is invaluable practice but it wasn’t until after I had been on a Driving Masterclass weekend at Anglesey with Mark Hales and Don Palmer that my driving really improved – I thoroughly recommend this course for any skill level and am forever grateful for the knowledge they shared.
Above: Mark Hales & Don Palmer at Anglesey
As a result, in GT Academy 2012 and 2013 I managed to place in the top 0.1% in the world, which in a field of over 1.5 million entrants all in exactly the same “machinery” was not a bad effort, but meant I was still 1000 places and 1 second a lap behind the winners! Lucas Ordonez and Jann Mardenborough have both proved their massive talent in the real world and are thoroughly deserving of the fantastic prize they won, a fully funded professional drive with Nissan and Sony in GT4, which for Lucas Ordonez lead on to an LMP2 drive at the Le Mans 24 hours where he finished 2nd in class in 2011 – not such a bad debut – and he won his class while partnering Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi in the 2012 Nurburgring 24 Hours.
Above: Sylva Fury XE all set for 2014 Sport Specials
But after all that virtual racing I just had to get behind the wheel again in the real world, and here I am in 2014 entering my old Fury in the Sport Specials. Now that circuit racing rules have grown to allow more extreme machinery, it is now too heavy and slow to be truly competitive, but sure enough it’ll be a lot of fun to run with the 750 Motor Club and help celebrate their birthday with some spectacular racing. Roll on Brands Hatch!
Brands Hatch Indy 26-27 April
Snetterton 300 25-26 May
Rockingham 5-6 July
Anglesey Coastal 26-27 July
Silverstone Intl 23-24 August
Cadwell Park 13-14 September
Donington Park National 4-5 October
I am writing a blog on my season in the 750MC Sport Specials which you can find at www.rearwheeldrive.co.uk