BMW Drivers Club Melbourne

From COVID lockdown to E30 track car

27 Apr 2021 10:03 PM | Anonymous

2020 kinda sucked didn’t it..?  It didn’t go the way many of us had hoped for or planned as we popped the corks at midnight on December 31, 2019.  Especially for us Victorian’s. Coming out of the Victorian 2021 Lockdown version 497 (or whatever it was...) late last year, I found myself in a rather reflective state of mind.  A bit like Talking Heads “Days Gone By:

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself
"My God! What have I done?"

For me, it was more “Where am I going?” and am I simply “Letting the Day’s Go By?”

In essence, I decided that I should start doing a little more with myself rather than just ‘working.’  And then ‘working’ some more.  And working in the gaps when I wasn’t working.

The truth was that we (my wife - Fiona, my kids - Harper and Payton and I) were working lots and not ‘playing’ enough.  And too much of what we wanted to do was being put it the ‘later’ column, rather than the ‘sooner’ or ‘now’ So, we decided to make some adjustments.

I had purchased a stunning mineral white M340i in February 2020.  Picked it up on Valentine’s Day - a much better way to celebrate the day of love than roses, don’t you think! It is also out first BMW. But of course, I barely had an opportunity to drive it, get familiar with it or enjoy it, owing to the restrictions and lockdowns that enveloped us all in early March 2020.  In fact, by the time the September School Holidays had spung around it only had 2,500km on the clock.

So, we had this beautiful BMW and we figured we should try to enjoy it and ourselves a little more.

“I reckon there must be a BMW car club of some sort we could join.” I pondered out aloud one night in about October.  “I’ll have a look online…”  A few clicks later I was proud member 599 of BMWDCM.

I started scrolling through the back issues of the BMWDCM newsletter and blog on the club website; to get a bit of an idea about the club I had just joined on a bit of a whim over the internet.   The stories and articles about the racing activities, track days and other motorsport` stories caught my interest.  “Now THAT does look like fun!  I wonder how my M340i would go on a track?”

By mid-December, this early musing about taking my daily onto the track for a bit of fun, had evolved rapidly into “maybe I just should get a track car…”

Which in some ways would be a ‘return’ to motorsport for me.  Being the son of a motor mechanic, I had grown up around cars and motorsport.  My Dad had raced Speedway cars (think Melbourne Speedbowl, Redline, Nyora) in the 1970’s and Off-Road buggies throughout the 1980’s up until the early 2000’s.  My 9th birthday present was a Go-Kart- and I raced around the country until I was 16- and then started Off-Roading with my Dad. 

We sold the Buggy in 2005 and haven’t really done much since other than helping a few mates and being keen spectators of watching cars go round and around…. No real racing.  No real track time.  Nothing of real note. 

But this was a perfect example of an idea that should be ‘now’ not ‘later.’

My next move was to chat to Dad.  “What do you reckon?  Should we get a track car?” Not surprisingly, he was pretty enthusiastic about the idea and before I could change my mind, he started to hit up a few auction sites looking for something that we could use.  It seemed Dad was enthusiastic about helping out with a car too- it would give him something to keep him busy in retirement!

Whilst looking at some of the auction site links Dad had sent me of potential cars (Toyota Celica’s and 86’s through to Mazda MX5 and Minis), I remembered seeing something on the BMWDCM site about E30 racing.  I knew what at E30 was, after all I grew up in the 1980’s and spent most Sunday afternoons watching Mike Raymond and Gary Wilkinson call these impressive machines as they dominated Australian race tracks.

So I Googled it as you do. “Wow- so this E30 racing is actually a ‘thing.’ "  I found a contact email address on the E30 racing website, so I emailed them - one of those nervous “Hi, I’m kinda interested in you, are you interested in chatting to me..?” type emails.  And got a super quick and friendly reply from a committee member - his name was Graeme. 

Now, remember I was a new member of BMWDCM, and had never been to a meeting, nor actually met anyone from the club, so I didn’t make the connection…You can hang it on me later if you like- but of course ‘Graeme’ was ‘Graeme Bell.” 

The next day, I spent about 45mins on the phone talking to Graeme about all things E30 racing, which was enough to get me excited enough to want to know even more.

This all happened just before Christmas, so Graeme invited my Dad and I down to his workshop early in the new year to come and chat some more and look at some of the cars.  That was good and all… but it meant I had to wait a few weeks before I could see one of these cars in the metal, so I would have to temper my excitement over the Christmas break.

In the meantime, Graeme became aware of a good car that was for sale and put me in touch with Geoff Bowles - a long time and respected E30 racer.  So, another long phone call with Geoff, to learn more about the cars, the series, the people and the rest of it and I now had two ‘appointments’ after Christmas. One with Graeme and one with Geoff and his car.  Both of which only fuelled my excitement for getting involved with an E30 and the E30 racing series.  It was affordable, full of friendly people and above all looked like a load of fun.  I also managed to have a few other conversations with some of the other competitors in the series along the way, so if you were one of them, thanks!

A trip out to Round 1 for the 2021 Garagistic Series at Sandown in early February was a wonderful opportunity for my Dad and I to see the series’ firsthand.  Graeme kindly organised passes for us both to attend.  It was great to experience the relaxed environment- people having fun, enjoying the cars, helping each other and just generally having a great time together at a motorsports event.   Everyone was generous in answering our questions, giving us advice and making my Dad and I feel very welcome.

We left Sandown on that February afternoon even more committed to getting involved.  Whilst Geoff’s car was still available, it didn’t have an engine, so we kept looking at what else might be ‘out there’.  The answer to that was ‘not much!’.  It seemed that finding a car was going to be more challenging than we estimated.

Jo and Graeme were wonderful in talking to the people they knew who cars might have available, so over the next few weeks we were able to chat to a few more E30 competitors but none were overly keen to part with their cars.

Jo and Graeme were great at using their network to see what might be available for us.  Jo messaged me mid-February, telling me that they had a car available and that my daughters would ‘love the colour’  “Is it pink or purple or something?” was my reply… “maybe...” came the curious response from Jo.

The available car was owned by BMWDCM member Walter Buehler.  He had owned the car for around 18 months.  Before that, it was driven by John Angiolella and originally built and raced by David Showers.  My Dad and I visited Walter early on Sunday morning to go and look at the car.  It was srraight, well maintained and importantly- ready to race. 

And just as Jo intimated, it was ‘purple’. Well, ‘Techno Violet’ to be precise.  Walter was a reluctant but willing seller, reluctant because he loved the car and driving it but willing as it would continue to be raced and loved.

A quick visit down to Bell Motorsport for Graeme to give the car an expert once over- and some more bench racing and the deal was almost done.

I say almost, because well, Dad was keen, I was keen… but Walter started to have second thoughts.  He really did love this car and driving it.  So, it took some extra reassurance from our end, and a few days later the deal was done.

I now owned a Techno Violet, BMW E30 Race Car- all but three months since I had my little ‘track car’ brain wave.

“Now What?”

I could sense the people at Visa getting all excited as we created the list of the gear we would need… A helmet?  Mine didn’t fit anymore, so I’d need one of them.  My waist was bigger since I last wore my suit, so one of them too please. Boots and Gloves.  Yep, them too.  A few new tools and the miscellaneous stuff you need to go racing… “Stop adding it up now”  I told myself.  I had forgotten one of the golden rules of competing in motorsport!

Oh, and a trailer.  We needed a plan there too… as we had committed to the AROCA Sprint Day at Winton on April 18.  Yep- an event day was now circled in the calendar and it was less than month away.  Eeek.

Acquiring a trailer was relatively easy - a quick request on Facebook and a few days later we had a near new Trik Race Car trailer that was about half the price of a new one.  A bargain pick-up from a local guy who ‘just wanted it gone.’  We were happy to oblige.

A visit out to our wonderful club sponsors at Revolution Racegear sorted us out nicely with the rest of our kit.  Mark at Revolution was wonderful- helpful, patient and polite with my Dad and I as we kitted ourselves out with all the necessary gear- helmets, suits, boots, gloves, HANS’ devices, the works.  Even a new seat for the car.  The generous discount was also very welcomed- and far greater than I expected.  Club sponsors like this are a wonderful benefit to all of us in BMWDCM- the advice and support we have access to beyond the expansive network within the club is truly amazing.   Please support them where you can.

The weekend before the Winton event, Dad I gave the car a quick service, checking all the vitals and doing some oil and fluid changes.  We fitted the new seat too - nice and comfy.  Beyond that we both just stood looking at the car and said to each other “I think that’s about it…. It’s pretty set to go.”  We figured we’d take it out to Winton, have a doddle around, get familiar with the car, have some fun, try not to get into anyone’s way and then plan our next move from there.

Nervous.  Excited.  Apprehensive.  Eager.  A paradox of emotions embraced Dad and I the night before our first event day.  Dad much more so than I!  I didn’t really sleep the night before and I don’t think Dad slept at all.  We headed off to the track early on Sunday morning- the sun was out and burning the morning frost off, but not so much our nerves.

We were greeted at the track by Jo and Graeme, as well as Rod, Simon, Tim, PK and Rachel - all wonderfully helpful and reassuring of Dad and I in helping us navigate the event day organisation and administration for our first competitive day out.  The basic stuff like tyre pressures, attaching timing devices, submitting paperwork - that was straightforward.  But their support in the reminders to have fun, take it easy and enjoy ourselves was super appreciated by Dad and I.

Owing to the run group designations and a late change, Dad was due to go out first.  He got to drive my car before I did… Not that he wanted to.  He was so terribly worried about ‘bending’ and ‘bruising’  the car- after all it had been nearly 20 years since he drove a race car competitively- and that was an off-road buggy in the northern NSW desert- not a track based tin top on slicks.  Oh, and we had never driven around Winton before - did I mention that?

We strapped my Dad in, resplendent in his new gear, and gave him some final words of reassurance.  I shook his hand and wished him the best.  I think he shook mine back or maybe he was just really nervous.  I wasn’t sure.  Anyway, I shut the door, tapped the roof one last time in support, and off he went.  Cutting his first laps around Winton in our new car.  A lone, purple, sorry “Techno Violet” BMW E30 in amongst a gaggle of Mazda MX5’s.

To say I was a bit overwhelmed as I watched my Dad drive around is not much of an understatement.  And may even seem strange to some.  But this was pretty cool for me.  An idea I had a few months ago, had rapidly come to be.  And better still, something that I wanted to do together with my Dad was also happening as I watched the little purple car go around.  Now, Dad wasn’t setting any lap records, far from it, but that wasn’t the point. 

Dad didn’t so much leap out of the car at the end of his session- but he did get out feeling kinda exhausted and super excited.  He had a ball out there on the track- and couldn’t stop telling me about the car and the track.  Not a lot of time for me to take it all in though as I had to get the dummy grid.  So, it was my turn to strap in and go.  Dad returned the handshake, kind words, roof tap routine… and off I went.

As I entered the track, I took a deep breath, eased on the power and made my way around Turns 3 and 4 before shaping up through the long turn 5 and into the tricky complex at the back of the track.  And I was away…

My first few laps were nothing to write home about but I did pass a couple of cars.  I also attended to some impromptu infield track maintenance.  That reminds me, I should invoice for the grass trimming I did…

As I drove my little car around, I started to feel some of my go-kart muscle memory come back.  The E30 was very much like a go-kart around the twisty, tight, busy Winton track.  Flow and finesse… are the keys around this place.  But to be honest, I didn’t have a lot of either flow or finesse in that first session.  More scrappy and sloppy, but I could see why everyone I had spoken to over the last few months really loved racing E30’s.   Fast, light, responsive… and just a whole lotta fun to throw into corners and peddle out of.   I was grinning from ear to ear by the time I headed back into the pits.

Dad and I debriefed a bit and Graeme and Jo checked in to see how we felt. Overwhelmed.  Excited.  And looking forward to really learning how to drive this car quickly and effectively.  More flow and less slop…

The rest of the day was spent doing more of the same - gaining experience, developing familiarity with the car, the track and the whole event day flow.   Lap-times?  Nothing to start doing cartwheels over—but enough to suggest that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves with a bit more experience and coaching under our belt.

After all, we had pretty much bought a car, stuck some fuel in it and gone racing. And had a ball doing it.

Graeme kindly fitted a camera to the car for one of my sessions.  I’m looking forward to sitting down with him to debrief the whole thing - including another infield excursion.   Once I have watched it, you will then all watch it on the “Australia’s Funniest Home Videos” YouTube channel.

The drive home from Winton is a long one at the best of times but as two exhausted drivers, the drive for Dad and I seemed even longer.  Towing the E30 down the Hume on the newly acquired trailer, neither of which we owned a few weeks earlier after our first day’s racing gave us plenty of time to chat about our day.  The fun.  The fears.  The f-up’s (like an upside-down HANS device… really!) And the wonderful new family we felt warmly welcomed into.

It was an enormous weekend.

Dad and I cannot thank Jo and Graeme enough for all of their support, encouragement and generosity.   To say they wrapped their arms around us warmly and genuinely is an understatement.  Thank you to both of you.  And we know your advice and guidance will be invaluable to us as we continue re-immerse ourselves into competitive motorsport and learn about this car.

What’s next?   Well, Dad and I plan to spend more time in the car and on tracks throughout the rest of the year.  Learning the car and developing our skills.  Absorbing and taking in as much advice and information as we can.  Working out how to get the best out of our E30.  How to drive it, maintain it and improve it.  And in 2022, we aspire to being on the grid for the E30 racing series.  That’s a way off yet though.

But then again so was all of this back in December when I quietly mused “Maybe I should get a track car…”

Shannon Cooper | Member #599
BMW Drivers Club Melbourne

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