A tale of two teams
By some curious coincidence two invitations arrived at the office from two new rally teams formed with a view to competing on the RAC Rally. Both were using foreign cars, and both had the support and blessing of the importer, but there the similarity ends.
Martin Kernahan is the senior buyer and used car manager for Kernahan’s Garages, an Austin Rover/Seat dealer. Ten years of club racing, mainly in the ubiquitous RS2000 Escort, had whetted his appetite enough to raise his sights to have a shot at the RAC Rally. Typical, in fact, of many clubmen who make up the bulk of the entrants.
Rather than go the easy route, however, Kernahan decided to initiate a project which would hopefully bring him technical assistance as well as be different enough to attract sponsorship.
Although they have been rallied before, albeit when under Fiat ownership, Seat is not exactly a marque that leaps to mind when deciding on a rally weapon. Kernahan, however, thought otherwise, no doubt influenced by the fact that he works for a Seat dealership.
The result is a Group A rally car, developing 105 bhp from its 1461cc engine, a machine constructed by Kernahan and his buddies at “Kernahan Motorsport”. No parts have been made specifically for this car by Spain yet, but there are bits that have carried over from the old 1500 GLX Group B car.
The aim of the small team is to finish the RAC Rally. At the moment the car does not develop enough power to challenge the Vauxhall Nova GTEs, which are much faster, but Kernahan is relying on the car’s reliability to beat the Ladas, Skodas, Peugeots and Corollas.
Although help has been obtained from Seat UK and advice and information from the competitions department of Seat Spain, the whole project remains very much an amateur affair which is in complete contrast to the Group N Daihatsu GTti team. This is a project which has been initiated in Japan, with the British concessionaires given a budget and Andy Dawson contracted to prepare and run the car with a professional driver.
The project, which like the Seat has been set up specifically for the RAC, began on July 31 when an early production car was delivered to Dawson Auto Developments at Silverstone. Dawson takes up the story: “It was stripped to a bodyshell, seam welded for security and a roll cage was welded in that had been especially homologated since it was lighter and stronger than the full FIA cage. “We then started on the engine development where our biggest problem was that the standard computer wasn’t modifiable. In order to alter the fuelling (you can only alter the fuelling and ignition on a Group N car), we had to make fairly large modifications to the engine management computer.
“We re-routed the brake pipes and the gearbox was stripped and rebuilt, struts were made and we put our own springs on. Things were going so well, and we were so pleased with the UK bits and pieces, that we had not even had reason to try the stuff sent over from Japan. “The suspension was one of the first parts of the car to be fully sorted. We used the Audi Sport rally as a test competitive test session and the only problem we encountered on our run to fourth in class was a bolt which had pulled out of the suspension. When we looked at the two other cars we had subsequently received after this early production one, we found that this part of the suspension had been made considerably heftier. It was obviously an early design fault which had ironed out.
As can be judged Daihatsu and Andy Dawson are taking the task very seriously indeed. There is a budget supplied from Japan and it is to the Japanese masters that any explanations have to be made.
A few laps at the RARDE test ground at Bagshot Heath as passenger to Terry Kaby, who is contracted to drive the turbocharged 993cc, 99 + bhp machine, was enough to convince me that this little car should cause a few surprises in the RAC. It will be competing in the 1600cc to 2000cc N3 class against such cars as the Vauxhall Astra GTE 16v, VW Golf GT1 16v, the MG Maestro and the 205 and 309 GTI Peugeots and so will have its work cut out.
Although both teams are working at different ends of the scale, both have their own targets, their own yardsticks and both will also be using the event to decide on their future for next year. WPK